Well, four years and 200 million iPad sales later, Microsoft has finally, finally, finally released Microsoft Office for the iPad, which includes, of course, PowerPoint. There’s a lot to like and…a lot to criticize. What, you think I’m going to give Microsoft an easy pass on this one?
First, let’s talk about getting it up and running on your iPad.
The Technical and Pricing Details
Each of the 3 office applications (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) are stand-alone apps that need to be downloaded separately from the iTunes store. The installation, as with most apps, is simple and straightforward. But upon opening PowerPoint (or one of the other apps), you’ll soon realize that you are only allowed to view and present presentations—not to edit or create. That is, unless you purchase or already own an Office 365 subscription.
And that’s where things can start to get complicated. Office 365 is still a point of confusion for a lot of consumers. It is essentially the subscription model for an Office suite on your PC and/or Mac that Microsoft is pushing hard as an alternative to the 2013 desktop version of Office. Different Office 365 plans give you different options for how many computers or devices you can install the software on, but a popular plan is the “Home Premium” one that gives you all Office apps on up to 5 computers or tablets for $99/yr.
So, in order to edit or create Office docs on the iPad, you must have an Office 365 subscription which you can make as an in-app purchase if you need to.
Redesigned from the Ground Up
It is here that I have to give Microsoft tremendous props for not just porting an existing version and interface onto the iPad, but redesigning it from the ground up. While the program will feel familiar to users of the desktop version of PPT, it has been greatly simplified and optimized for the iPad. The dense set of ribbons has been simplified down to 5 tabs, each with a bare minimum of options. Formatting and functions are always at your fingertips—no endless clicking into sub-menus or hunting around. Working on slides feels easy and elegant. Moving objects around and working with text is a nice experience. It feels more Apple-like, than Microsoft-like.
Perfect for Playback
With one major exception, PowerPoint for iPad excels in playback. It is fairly easy to load PPT files through iTunes, from email or from Windows OneDrive. Unfortunately, there is no in-app support for Dropbox which would have been nice, but you can transfer PPT files from Dropbox for iPad to PPT for iPad. Once you have your files loaded, playback is beautiful and smooth. Swipe from the side to advance or go back, but it would have been nice to simply tap as well to advance. It is also easy to pretend you’re John Madden and notate and highlight parts of a slide on the fly with your finger (although these notes vanish when you advance to the next slide).
There are many transitions to apply, and all play beautifully, as do complicated animations created on the desktop—even motion paths. While there is much that you cannot edit from the iPad, the app does not seem to eliminate or change most of what you have created on the desktop side. This is very good news, and will definitely give SlideShark a run for its money.
Sending your slides to a screen via AirPlay is possible, but not from the app. You’ll have to set this in the iPad general settings. You cannot pinch to zoom during slideshow mode, although you can in edit mode.
And when you arrive at a slide with video…nothing happens. While you do see a static screen shot of the first frame of your video, PowerPoint for the iPad simply does not support any video or audio playback. D’oh! Score one for Keynote…
Lack of video support might be my biggest disappointment.
A Small Program for a Small Screen
All the simplification comes at the price of removal of many functions. PowerPoint on the desktop is filled with hundreds, if not thousands of functions and endless options. No one would expect the iPad version to duplicate all these features, but there are some glaring omissions, including:
- No video support
- No creation or editing of object animations (only slide transitions)
- No printing support (sorry, Microsoft, but businesses still print A LOT of slides)
- Limited photo insertion (only option is from photo albums on your iPad; a Bing image search would have been awesome)
- No creation or editing of transparency on images or objects (you can insert a colored shape, but you can’t make it 50% transparent to use it as a text box over an image the way Microsoft’s screenshot above shows)
- No style control (you can apply default styles to text, shapes and images, but you have no further manual control)
- No alignment tools (I understand the challenge of selecting multiple objects in order to align, but a snap-to-shape feature would help in aligning multiple images)
- Little control of layouts and themes (you can select a theme when creating a new presentation, and a layout when creating a new slide, but you can’t change either of these after the fact)
- No image editing (aside from applying a default style, you cannot increase the brightness, create a duotone or even crop an image)
- No native Box, Dropbox or Google Drive support (I know Microsoft is pushing its own OneDrive service, but many users have other well-established workflows)
The Best Slide Solution for the iPad?
Is this the best solution for creating and running presentations on the iPad? Yes and no.
For those who have no interest in bothering with Keynote or converting and managing presentations through SlideShark, then PowerPoint for the iPad is a very good solution for basic viewing, very basic editing and playback. The iPad’s mail app has always been able to give you a preview of a PPT file attachment, but it often distorts, deletes and alters content. Not cool. A PDF was always a solution, but do you really want to constantly be asking your client to “make a PDF so I can view it on my iPad”?
As for me, while I will definitely make use of the new PowerPoint for iPad app, I will still rely on my favorite solution for presenting slides on the iPad: Photo Albums and JPEGs in the photo app. I still keep my portfolio on my iPad by converting presentations into individual albums of JPEGs. This allows me to quickly scan through dozens of presentations and then hundreds of slides, pinching and zooming and pulling up any slide I need very quickly.
But at the end of the day, I still have to hand it to Microsoft for a well-designed, if feature-lacking solution.
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I need to give special thanks to my friend Ric Bretschneider, former Senior Program Manager for PowerPoint at Microsoft who provided feedback on the above and who reminded me that A) this is still just a 1.0 version that will surely be improved in future versions, and B) Apple notoriously limits access to significant parts of the iOS API, preventing developers from instituting certain desired features.
The app has only been out for a few days, so if you feel I got anything wrong, please let me know! And if you have started using PowerPoint on the iPad yourself, I would love to know your experiences.