The first thing I noticed when starting up PowerPoint 2013 was that it looked much cooler. It is a pretty subtle change, and doesn’t affect the functionality of the program in any significant way, but it felt like the style and design of the program had been updated to modern minimalist style. All of the buttons have become stylised line drawings, firmly in the 2D camp; a step away from PowerPoint 2010’s look.
Where this new interface design does seem to affect the usability is that all of the buttons felt larger on the tool bar, whilst at the same time less cluttered. I’m not sure if that is even possible, but that was the feel I got. The downside is that the icons have become more abstract, so in some cases their function less obvious, but this might also be because the ribbon seems more keen to hide the text labels on the buttons (perhaps helping create that illusion of space up there).
The next thing you notice is that the standard slide format has become widescreen. This is a great change as increasingly more and more of our devices are moving to that format, and trying to transform a slide created in a 4:3 ratio to widescreen is a pain. Sensibly there is the option to reset it to 4:3 in the design tab very easily, for those times when you want to create content to use on an iPad.
Moving onto working with the program, I get the impression that PowerPoint has started to standardise the way different functions work. Now the format box appears as a pane alongside the animation pane, as well as comments. These are great changes as they make it much easier to edit content when you don’t have a formatting window floating on top of you slide. The colour fill menu now has a colour picker tool, allowing you to more easily match colours (fantastic!) and the comments box deserves particular mention as the comments are now presented as a conversation, rather than post-its stuck to the slide, which not only makes it easier to keep track of them, but you can also work with them more easily, posting replies to specific comments. One thing I am disappointed with is that the animation effects/timing box hasn’t undergone a similar metamorphosis to become a pane as well; that would have made dealing with complex animations much simpler.
Now that we’re talking about animations (possibly the function I get most excited about!) I like that the time bars of animations are now colour coordinated to the four different types of animations, making it much easier to see at a glance what is going on with them. However even that pales in comparison to what is (well for me at least…) the most exciting new feature; motion paths now show you a shadow of where the object will end up after the motion path, so you can see the final position of each motion path. That is going to make it much easier to correctly position them in future. Unfortunately this new feature doesn’t seem to apply to the emphasis effects, so you can’t see the end result of spins or shrinks, so of course you cannot see the end result of multiple animations on the same object running at the same time. However it is definitely a step in the right direction. (What I would really like to see is a way of scrubbing through the timeline of a slide’s animations – that would be brilliant!)
Finally when it comes to making presentations, PowerPoint now remembers which slide you were working on when you last closed it, and lets you jump right back in there. I can definitely see that coming in handy.
If you spend more time presenting slides than making them, you might be more interested in hearing about the changes to presenter mode. This mode is now much more powerful as it lets you jump into a slide sorter view within the presentation, so you no longer need to come out of slideshow mode to find what you are looking for and opening up the possibility of running non-linear presentations much more seamlessly.
The other fancy new feature of slideshow mode is the zoom function. This lets you focus in on one part of the slide, and then scroll around. It isn’t quite up to Prezi’s cinematic zooms and swoops, but I am sure that those of your audience susceptible to sea-sickness will be glad of that! I have high hopes that zooming into a presentation could offer some interesting new possibilities when it comes to presenting information in a conversational style, allowing you to focus in on the elements your audience are interested in.
PowerPoint now also offers cloud saving functionality, allowing you to back up and access your documents and files from anywhere you can connect to the internet. This is functionality you can get in other ways, but it would definitely be convenient to have it all integrated within the one suite of programs. More importantly PowerPoint now supports co-authoring, so you can work with colleagues without the fear of creating branching documents and multiple versions of the same presentation, without anyone knowing which one is the latest, or even if there is a latest version!
So all in all it seems like there’s a few great new features in there (particularly the animation improvements for me!). It hasn’t got every feature I could have wanted, but then again I’m not sure how realistic it is to hope PowerPoint will make me coffee when I’m getting stuck into making a big presentation…