Talking Points on Keynote

KeynoteI’m beginning to think that I’ve given up the world of Web design for a career in business presentation graphics. For five weeks now, I’ve been making a regular Friday presentation using Keynote, Apple’s would-be PowerPoint killer. By now, I feel like I have a pretty decent understanding of the ins and outs of both this program and its Microsoft-published competitor. Everyone knows how frustrating PowerPoint can be. But switching to Keynote is more like trading in a bag of a hundred problems for a bag of about fifty — it’s an improvement, but it’s not a solution.

In This Corner…

The Keynote enthusiast’s Web site has pretty good documentation available that compares the feature set of these two programs. It’s easy to see that PowerPoint wins out if you go by sheer number of features; it’s true that a Microsoft product will never be caught behind the count in features and that is, arguably, one of the reasons so much of their software seems bloated. But in this case, I’ll say what’s no secret: PowerPoint easily has the better feature set for professional presenters.

Behavior Keynote Template

Like many Apple products, where Keynote excels is user interface elegance and sheer aesthetics. In spite of its feature handicap, I prefer Keynote still because its method of managing and allowing users to understand templates, “Master Slides,” is straightforward and easily navigable. Even in the Windows version of PowerPoint, which is superior to and easier to use than its Macintosh counterpart, managing these templates requires a patient willingness to follow Microsoft’s oblique logic. This is a huge deal to me, because, at the very least, Keynote gets out of my way.

Presentations in a Jiffy, Except…

Sort of. The program’s major flaw is that it’s horrendously slow. Laying out larger presentations is a slow process even on my Dual 1 GHz Power Macintosh G4, and I often find the type output on the screen trailing the keys I tap on the keyboard by a full second or more. That’s just bad, inefficient programming.

Above: Masters and servants. The Keynote user interface makes the relationship between Master Slides, top left gray area, and regular slides wonderfully plain.

If you can live with these shortcomings though, Keynote presentations are, by lengths, disproportionately more beautiful than anything you can generate from PowerPoint. Graphics look better and typography is actually treated with respect. It’s a measure of how conducive the program is to good design that even some of stock Keynote templates you can buy — like Duet and SoHo, both from — are themselves gorgeously rendered.

Keynote, Interrupted

Probably the most worrisome strike against Keynote, though, is its teetering status at the edge of software orphanhood. It’s been a long, long time since Apple last released any updates for the program, and I haven’t heard hardly a peep about the possibility that it will be updated soon. I’m encouraged by the fact that recently Apple promoted Keynote through a user design contest — the results are pretty amazing, and radically far afield from anything you could hope to squeeze out of PowerPoint — but it wasn’t enough of a sign to convince me that they are paying sufficient attention to it. I hope I’m wrong about that, though.



  1. I spent about 45 mins with one of Keynote’s developers at a show a year and a half ago. We went over what was wrong/missing from Keynote. She was already aware of most of the most egregious stuff in the app *and* said they had already started to rectify them. She was adamant about not getting into a features contest with PowerPoint, or even the corporate presentation market per se. At the time, I had a sense that whatever they were working on would likely ship in 6-9 months tops. But I guess I was wrong. 🙂

  2. I’m not sure to be hearted by the details of that discussion or disheartened by how long ago the discussion took place. A year and a half is an eternity in software, and the fact that Apple had a plan to fix it way back then and have yet to act on it is kind of a bad sign. Oh well.

Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.