Can a PowerPoint user be converted to Keynote? Is this the perfect excuse to use Macs more? And how well do they work on iPad? Read on…

PowerPoint has been the staple of the business presentation for a good many years, and with the imminent release of PowerPoint 2013 and the inevitable shift towards tablets that Windows 8 will help facilitate, it is likely to be so for a good many more. However, precisely as Apple planned – the ‘halo’ effect of the iPhone and the iPad has encouraged more users to bring Macs to work. And with that comes the question: ‘Can we do this on Keynote?’

I’ve used a Mac as my home computer for a long time, and flitted between it and Windows for work. However, I’ve never used Keynote. My challenge was to pitch PowerPoint vs Keynote, to go about creating Keynote versions of BrightCarbon visual slides and document the differences between the process and the results.

Menus and shortcuts

The first difference between the two programmes (or Apps as we are now supposed to call them) is the set-up of the menus. In typical Apple style, Keynote presents you with a sparse, clean – but unfamiliar menu. While all the options you need are there – things like colour formatting, drop shadows, text alignment, they are squirrelled away behind drop-down menus and tabs. Other options, such as ‘send to back’ and ‘flip horizontally’ can only be accessed by manually adding them to a customized toolbar.

I work with a large number of shortcuts attached to my toolbar in PowerPoint, so having to hunt through the icons to find what I need is frustrating. However, as I mentioned, you can add some more functionality into the toolbar by customizing it, and once you fully explore the ‘inspector’ window, you’ll find that most things are collected together there as you’d expect. In fact, having them all located in one area, under separate tabs, proves to be a handy way to accessing them. It would be nice to be able to keep some of the inspector tabs anchored to the menus, but this isn’t possible. And although you can have multiple versions of the inspector open at the same time to access options quickly, the window is quite large and you can’t do so without sacrificing screen space (even on a retina display, this is too much of an imposition). At the same time, the inspector itself is a little small and cluttered, which it hampers its own utility. Useful it may be, but also poorly designed.

On the menus and shortcuts front, PowerPoint – albeit oldskool – still has the edge. Functions are easy to access and well-organised thanks to the ribbon, which walks the fine line between uncluttered and useful. Furthermore, customisation is straightforward which is essential for pro users or home users who likes things ‘just so’.

Themes, masters and customisation

There is no doubt that Keynote has the upper hand in its default templates. Apple has designed a huge library of backgrounds and layouts that are polished and slick. Some are a little ‘fun’ for my liking, but Keynote – unlike you might say of PowerPoint – has been designed for home projects as well as business. Apple’s templates are crafted with media in mind, with large placeholders for pictures and great frames to hold them.

The backgrounds included in the templates immediately mark out a Keynote slide from a PowerPoint slide. Where Apple uses subtle effects like chalkboard, paper and leather to add texture to the design, Microsoft opts for stripy lines, butterflies and snowflakes – unsubtle if not downright vulgar. That said, it is rare that a company will opt for a default template for its own material, and so the actual utility of Apple’s offering for business applications will be limited.

You can see PowerPoint’s humble theme options (top) compared to Keynote’s all-singing-all-dancing offerings (bottom).

powerpoint vs keynote


The Master slide set-up works in pretty much the same way as with PowerPoint, which is good because it works well. Colour palettes and default text settings are also available, but set up differently. Setting a default colour palette for your presentation (an absolute must to adhere to brand guidelines), is more of a manual job in Keynote, but is achievable with some perseverance. Setting a shape’s formatting to the default for the template is as easy as in PowerPoint, and the same can be done with charts and pictures. These customisation options, combined with the diverse range of themes included in the software make it easy to create great-looking tailored templates – something that is impressive but not just straight out-of-the-box.

I’d say that Keynote inches ahead of PowerPoint in this area – the default themes are much prettier, and editing them is just as easy in both programmes. While Keynote falters slightly on its palette options, the choice (and inspiration) provided by the built-in themes is something that Microsoft should be ashamed of.

Shapes, pictures and charts

Here we come to the nub of it. While there is an awful lot to love about Keynote, one of the frustrations for advanced users will undoubtedly come from the fact that creating and manipulating custom shapes is so limited. I spend probably half my time working with custom shapes in PowerPoint – creating new objects, adding layers, grouping and merging. This functionality opens up a huge world of potential in terms of creating visual slides, and is one of the greatest benefits of PowerPoint 2007 over its predecessors. Without being able to merge objects into new shapes, we have to either use key point manipulation or create the shape in another programme (Illustrator etc.) and import them. Neither is desirable, and shouldn’t be necessary – Microsoft sorted this five years ago.

Working with images is much easier. Keynote plugs into Apple’s standard picture formatting toolbox, which is both simple and powerful. Also, the ability to mask pictures with different shapes is a nice addition and is built on single click functionality. To achieve the same in PowerPoint, you need to crop your image to the exact dimensions of the shape you want to fill, then copy to the clipboard and paste into your chosen shape. You can then embellish the shape with additional effects, but it is not quite as simple as Apple’s approach.

Below is Keynote’s image mask interface (top), and the same rather more laborious process in PowerPoint (bottom).

powerpoint vs keynote

Charts are immediately impressive in Keynote – something that PowerPoint should learn from. Behind the bells and whistles are robust data-editing functions based on Apple’s Numbers App. I like how the data table floats over Keynote rather than taking up half the screen as it does in PowerPoint. Editing data is simple but the default templates for charts – as with presentation themes, is where Keynote really shines.

PowerPoint is head and foot above Keynote when it comes to shapes and object manipulation. While Keynote has some neat tricks, the lack of editability, beyond keypoint manipulation is a major setback and pretty unforgiveable. Its absence really speaks of a missed opportunity for Apple – it seems that Keynote has been designed for the light user, who will make use of many default themes and objects, but will not need to go much beyond. This approach works well with programmes like iMovie and iPhoto, which have Pro-equivalent Apps on the market (Final Cut Pro and Aperture, respectively), but it is frustrating that some of the more robust functionality has been left out of Keynote, when no alternative Pro version is available.

So: PowerPoint vs Keynote round 3 goes to PowerPoint.

Animations and transitions

A hugely important element of an effective presentation is the use of animation to help build up the information on screen and communicate your message. PowerPoint has a stable of animations that get the job done. More customisation would be nice – things like being able to choose a custom path for a ‘wipe’ to follow, and being able to start anywhere on a ‘wheel’ animation – but these are merely gripes. The majority of PowerPoint’s more lavish animations – things like ‘bounce’ and ‘boomerang’ aren’t useful because they don’t themselves add any meaning.

Keynote has its fair share of shiny animations that realistically serve little purpose, in addition to the standards of PowerPoint. The ‘Action’ tab within animations however, is extremely interesting and a great addition. These animations allow you to line up a series of images (not objects), and choose a style to browse through them. These tend to be quirky and typically Apple – but include shuffling, thumbing through, and a 3D rotating cube. Some of this would not be duplicable in PowerPoint, but even those that would, would take a large amount of effort. Apple has created a simple and powerful tool for showing off – but unlike some of its other experiments, I can see this being extremely useful because – as I said – it could help convey meaning.

The architecture of Keynote’s animations are largely the same as PowerPoint, built around an – albeit hidden by default – timeline. The same options to begin on click, with previous and after previous are there and work in much the same way. Again – a good system, so it makes sense it’s shared across both platforms.

An interesting addition is the ‘magic move’. The idea is that you place and reformat a copy of an object on your slide, and Keynote automatically works out the animations needed to get from A to B. It’s a clever mechanism, but takes a while to get used to. PowerPoint employs a ‘from-the-start’ approach to animation, so using this new system isn’t immediately helpful. Likewise, mixing regular animations with magic moves can lead to move confusion than it avoids. Still, there must be something in it, as Microsoft have included a similar ‘ghost image’ for their motion paths in the upcoming PowerPoint 2013.

Again, there is much for the light user to be wowed by in Keynote, but for the business user, a lot of it is fluff. The one or two useful Keynote additions probably give it the edge.

Keynote and iOS

One of the main reasons for making the switch to Keynote is to better integrate with Apple’s increasingly-popular iOS devices. The Keynote app is nicely designed – infinitely more usable on iPad than on the iPhone – but is a struggle if you’re creating a large amount of content. Touch has its limitations – and Apple’s use of contextual menus, which lead to you searching for functions that you know must be there, is one of them. The app is a great tool for on-the-fly edits and presenting, with great display out functionality thanks to Apple TV and the AV adapter, but for creating a presentation from scratch – I’d give it a miss.

What would make more sense, is to use the app as a presentation device to showcase your Mac-created content. This is especially easy thanks to iCloud, which automatically and seamlessly syncs your documents between your Mac and your iPad. Once on the iPad however, we run into difficulties, as Keynote is all too quick to warn that ‘The presentation may look different on your iPad’ and prompts you to open a copy, before hurling a list of incompatibility warnings your way. Hmph. Good luck.

A chief reason that people believe switching is the way forward, is that they think PowerPoint doesn’t work on the iPad. This is both true and false at the same time. There is no native PowerPoint app that allows you to create and edit PowerPoint content. (However, given the patchy results of a Keynote port, I’m not going to mourn this). There is however, SlideShark – an iOS app that allows you to present your PowerPoint presentations smoothly, with full animations, presenter notes and hyperlinks. The app is available for businesses on a subscription basis, or for free for individuals. It works a treat, but does so by positioning itself solely as a presentation device – for showing content rather than creating it. It is a trick that Apple should learn from, if they want to get serious traction with their iPad/Keynote/Mac trinity.

Surprisingly, Keynote doesn’t work as well with iOS devices as PowerPoint. The playing field isn’t perhaps completely level – Apple has striven to allow iPad users to create and edit content as well as present, whereas SlideShark is simply a means to present. However, in the end, the user experience with SlideShark and PowerPoint is seamless, simple and powerful. And wins this contest.


So what have we learnt? I was eager to be swayed by Keynote, not least because it gives me more chance to play with my beautiful Mac. And for a time, I was. Apple has focussed – as it tends to do – on the front-end, casual user experience. It is glossy and lots of great things happen without you having to do much. However, it has drawbacks in terms of functionality, usability and compatibility that just don’t hamper PowerPoint – which if used correctly, can whizz and bang just as impressively as Keynote. If you’re serious about presentations, and even serious about presenting on iPad, PowerPoint is still the way to go.

PowerPoint vs Keynote? PowerPoint is the way to go.

So says a Mac fan.

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Written by

Kieran Chadha

Principal consultant

View Kieran Chadha's profile

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  1. Image of Vincent Vincent says:

    The inability to see a real-time line for animations in Keynote makes PowerPoint my software of choice. When dealing with complex animations with phased delays and triggers for introduction and emphasis of other elements on slides, it is practically impossible to carry out in a ‘blind’ workflow in Keynote.

  2. Image of Reuben Tozman Reuben Tozman says:

    Nor are there good slide management technologies for Keynote. The use of OML in MS Office products makes PPTX files very manageable if you find the right tools.

  3. Image of Benoit David Benoit David says:

    Question, or maybe I should say “concern” about SlideShark: the files are “handed over” to them. This can sometimes be a security issue.

  4. Image of Simon Simon says:

    May I be the dissenting voice?

    I find the interface in Keynote sooooo much faster to use that it saves me (at a guess) about an hour per set of slides. (BTW, a lot of the things you’re complaining about having to manually add to the menu bar are available on a simple right-click.)

    Did I miss the bit where you talk about the things Keynote can do which PPT can’t? I’m not saying there’s not stuff in the other direction, of course, just wondering why you didn’t mention them. Magic Move is the only example you cite, I think. (I must admit it took me nearly five minutes to get the hang of it but I love it now!)

    I must admit that I’m probably biased, because as a presentations company we run Macs, mainly, but we’ve got PPT installed to test exports to our clients, so I do tend to use both.

  5. Image of Kieran Chadha Kieran Chadha says:

    Hi Simon, of course you can be the dissenting voice – I love a healthy debate!

    There’s definitely functionality that is exclusive to each PowerPoint and Keynote, in addition to all the overlap, and I think each have their strengths. As I said, I think Keynote handles media beautifully and intuitively, and that Apple has done a great job with the default templates that encourage users to move away from bullet points. I’m also a fan of the presenter’s view, which I think is most helpful than PowerPoint’s.

    Your point about right-clicking is valid, but everyone works in their own way, and I find a customised, icon-based toolbar easier and faster to work with. The fact you can share it with others is also great, and helps people get the most out of PowerPoint.

    I’d be interested to here about your experience using Keynote on iPad to present Mac-created presentations – if you use it. Do you have difficulties creating content that works perfectly in both formats?

    Some really interesting insights into Keynote, thank you.

  6. Image of Kieran Chadha Kieran Chadha says:

    Hello Benoit, SlideShark works by uploading your content into the cloud, and then accessing that content from your iPad.

    Your content is securely stored, as the app is powered by Brainshark, whose infrastructure is fully redundant and hosted in a highly secure Tier 1 SAS-70 certified data centre. Brainshark is used all around the world by some of the largest organisations, handling sensitive data on a daily basis.

    However, as part of the service, it is true that your material is ‘handed over’, if this is your concern. The same is also true of using iCloud ‘Documents in the cloud’ with Keynote.

    Thank you for your comments.

  7. Image of Kieran Chadha Kieran Chadha says:

    Hi Reuben,

    I think the ability to work with plug-ins in PowerPoint is a great bonus, and there are some incredible additions available. One of my favourites – now defunct I think – was Community clips, that allowed you to record your actions within PowerPoint – a really simple way of making a great tutorial. I hope the innovations continue with PowerPoint 13.

    Thanks for your comments.

  8. Image of Vincent Vincent says:

    Kieran – Glad to say that Community Clips is still alive and kicking, really handy for recording. You can then even embed the video you’ve created back into your presentation.
    Simon – with regard to the magic move tool, I agree that it can be a really handy tool for use when moving a couple of objects from one place to another, but I find that when using the function on really complicated slides, where a presenter is communicating a process that requires several movements via clicks alongside other animations, it just doesn’t work properly. PowerPoint 2013 with motion paths ghosting their end location should help bridge the gap.

  9. Image of Ken Ken says:

    Very nice, fair comparison.

    I will say, however, I was hugely surprised at what the author mentioned about creating and manipulating custom shapes. He states that this will be a frustration for advanced users with Keynote. I just can’t even express how much I disagree with this. This should be re-phrased to “will be a frustration for NOVICE users.” When I am forced to use powerpoint for compatibility purposes at my business, I will often open up keynote in the background to make a custom image and then copy and paste into powerpoint. I find the ease and speediness of creating great looking custom images with Keynote far superior to powerpoint, and sometimes even more convenient than Adobe Illustrator.

    Honestly, I used powerpoint for my entire life in both academics and business up until about 3 years ago. I sat down with Keynote once never went back.

  10. Image of Kieran Chadha Kieran Chadha says:

    Hi Ken,

    Thanks for your comments, really great to get another perspective. With regards to the frustration I mentioned, I was really referring to the ability to combine and subtract shapes using boolean tools to create icons and graphics. We find this a simple way to quickly create custom visuals without having to use Illustrator.

    I’d agree though that when it comes to manipulating images, Keynote is more straightforward.

    All the best,


  11. Image of TS TS says:

    What about inserting video clips? what formats are supported by both. As a doctor I add a lot of video clips to my presentations and was advised that despite I have been working with powerpoint for years I should shift to Keynote as it is more “stable”

  12. Image of Kieran Kieran says:

    Thanks for your comment.

    My understanding is that Keynote is limited to accepting movies compatible with iTunes (MPEG-4 and MOV files) so you may have issues trying to add WMV or AVI files without some kind of conversion. PowerPoint is more forgiving and accepts these (usually) without issue. Plus, if you have Quicktime installed, you should be able to add MPEG-4 and MOV files too.

    As to stability, video in PowerPoint 2007 was tricky and not particularly reliable. PowerPoint 2010 is a real improvement; it manages the process better and is much more stable.

    Beware though that adding movies very quickly increases the size of your presentation files – making sharing, publishing and even playback more difficult. Hyperlinking out to websites to show videos or something like Brainshark is a good way to work round this.

  13. Image of Mark Mark says:

    I love working with keynote. However, one thing Powerpoint can do that Keynote CAN’T is make a non-linear slideshow. In MSPP, animations can be linked to mouse-over, mouse-click on an object, or even specific keys, allowing me to trigger animations myself. Keynote, as of 2013, still is completely linear. Beautiful, yes. But linear nonetheless.

  14. Image of Kieran Kieran says:

    Hi Mark,

    Great comments – I understand your frustrations and completely agree! Thanks for joining the discussion.

    Good luck with the slides!


  15. Image of Steve Miller Steve Miller says:

    Hi. I’ve personally made the move to Keynote solely because of the actual “presentation” advantages. I speak to 700+ people every week and needed preview screen monitor — which I have through my iPad and Keynote. I’ve tried the various PowerPoint app’s that advertise this capability, but all were unreliable. When my remote clicker suddenly stops working, I also have a swipe capability with the Keynote remote app that makes it worth a million bucks. I was always frustrated with the presentation mode issues with PPT, but no more with Keynote.

    Having said that, Keynote has has some real drawbacks that make me miss PPT. Sure, Keynote has some snappy transitions that make it pretty cool, but it’s way behind Powerpoint on custom shapes and other funtions. There isn’t even a simple curved line capability. Keynote has now simple capability for making a path line for moving from one part of a map to another. I go on and on. I hope that Apple is considering an update sometime soon. I would buy the first program that married the best of both PowerPoint and Keynote.

  16. Image of Kieran Kieran says:

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your comments – really interesting stuff. I’d recommend you try Slideshark.

    Slideshark allows you to use your iPad to present PowerPoint slides. But what I think you’ll really like is the presenter view it shows while you’re doing so. It’s informative and intuitive without being cluttered. You can also use the App to link your iPad and your iPhone with Bluetooth, allowing you to easily navigate through slides, while your iPad is hooked up to a screen or projector.

    Give it a go – it might be just what you’re looking for. We’d love to hear what you think.


  17. Image of Gopikrishnan Gopikrishnan says:

    Did I miss anyone talking about Alpha? I find this very useful in Keynote.
    I have used power point quite a bit and now some Keynote and love Keynote for the out of the box polished look it gives to your presentation.
    For Video support, not sure if I was doing something wrong, but had serious challenges embedding video on PowerPoint and clicking on it. It won’t run in presentation mode! Happened to me in a previous version. Never tried off late.
    Having the Speaker notes available on your iOS device is a feature to die for, since you have what you are looking for in your hand.
    One challenge I had with PowerPoint is lack of built in clip arts. Not that I always found the right clip art quickly in PowerPoint, but somehow it gives a feeling of comfort (False?) that its there.
    I feel that the animations in Keynote very useful, and Apple has proved that time and again in their Keynotes. I miss the Pan effect in PowerPoint. But the Magic move is fantastic in Keynote.

  18. Image of Kieran Kieran says:

    Hi, thanks for getting involved with the discussion.

    The instant alpha tool is very useful, although PowerPoint has the same functionality in its ‘Set transparent colour’. It’s not very well known, but does the same thing.

    But I’d completely agree with you on the Magic Move – it’s a really handy tool, and great for beginners, for whom motions paths can be confusing.

    Also, your point about video is interesting. In 2003, PowerPoint had real difficulties with video. 2007 was an improvement but still not quite there. 2010 is far more reliable, and usually works without a hitch, if you’re using a compatible file and have a reasonably-sized clip. One thing you need to be aware of is that not everyone will have Quicktime installed on their machine, so if your file is a mp4, it might be worth converting the movie to wmv or something more common before adding it to your project.

    Thanks very much for your comments.


  19. Image of Prasad Prasad says:

    One way in which Keynote really shines is its Export to Movie feature. Powerpoint is simply archaic in not including this functionality. When you pay the kind of money MS asks for Power Point, you expect all types of encoders/decoders/converters etc to come built in.

  20. Image of Kieran Chadha Kieran Chadha says:

    Hi Prasad,

    PowerPoint can export to WMV movie files, and PowerPoint 2013 can also export to MP4. Although, I’d be interested to learn why creating a movie from a presentation package is important to you.

    I suppose it depends what you’re creating your presentation for. The presentations we tend to create in PowerPoint are designed to be presented face-to-face. In that instance, having the ability to click through the animations is crucial to allow the presenters to deliver the material effectively; locking the animations down in a video format is precisely what we don’t want. If we create standalone presentations to sit on a website for example, we tend to use something like Brainshark, which supports the animations, but also gives you viewing analytics.

    If you are creating something as a movie, it seems something like Adobe’s After Effects would be more suitable – although of course, more difficult to edit. If you do export from PowerPoint, it would probably be best to use a video editing package for adding music etc. This isn’t something that PowerPoint does well – although, it was not designed to.

    Thanks for your comments.


  21. Image of Thor Hammer Thor Hammer says:

    Great review, and a useful discussion. Now that there are new versions of Keynote for Mac and iOS, will your conclusion still be the same?

    There is one feature lacking in Keynote that keeps me in PP: I cannot view the slide show in a window. I present a lot in video conferences, i have to be able to see other apps while presenting. Even with two displays, I have not found a way. Exporting to a movie takes away flexibility.

  22. Image of Kieran Chadha Kieran Chadha says:

    Hi Thor Hammer (great name by the way!)

    There have been significant updates to Keynote for both Mac and iOS – and there’s a full review coming very soon, so watch this space!

    The presenter view issue causes a lot of problems. For those who don’t know, you can show a small version of ‘Show Mode’ in PowerPoint by holding down shift when you click the Show Mode button. It’s really handy for multitasking, or if you want to click through your slides while making edits at the same time. As far as I know, you can’t do this in Keynote.

    Thanks again.


  23. Image of JoeT JoeT says:

    Has anyone mentioned that Keynote i FREE?! For all it does, that’s enough to choose it. I’ve use both a lot. I lean heavily towards Keynote.

  24. Image of William Johns William Johns says:

    Hey Kieren 🙂

    I’m pretty ignorant with either program, but I’m wondering if some of your frustration might come from your previous familiarity with Power Point. It would be really interesting for someone to try to learn each from scratch and then compare the two experiences. You seemed very open and honest with both yourself and us, and I think your basic conclusions would probably hold. Just an impression I got-but I also favour Macs pretty strongly (just on the joy of beauty they bring into the work space), so maybe thats playing into this as well!). But I was reading just to see how well Keynote might stand up to PP and the impression I’ve shared came up pretty early; mainly with your comments about the inspector, which I’m used to and would find comfortingly familiar, while you seem to have found it the opposite.

    All in all, thanks for a great comparison and contrast of these two (I actually just noticed something called Keynote on my new iPhone 6 plus, and was looking into what in the world it was used for!). Can’t wait to see how your review of the new releases of each have them stacking up to each other.

    Cheers from an expat in Western Australia 🙂

  25. Image of Mike Mike says:

    I always wondered about this and finally got around to reading a serious article about the comparison. Thanks for helping me not feel bad about not switching to keynote. 😉 (or put another way to feel better about sticking with powerpoint)

  26. Image of jon Trew jon Trew says:

    I’ve just switched to Keynote from Powerpoint.
    Presenter mode is much better in Keynote.
    Importing Powerpoint files are 98% accurate. It feels like a better interface.

    The downside I had to spend £30 to buy a Thunderbolt to VGA dongle to connect to most projectors. Keynote is also very finicky about video formats and does not allow you to embed WMF files. The use of an iPhone as a remote is a great idea but is let down by the fact that you have to press the screen to advance the slides not one of the hardware buttons like the volume or the start button. you need touch feedback when you are using a remote as you can’t look at it when presenting.

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