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Five ways Keynote for the iPad badly misses the mark


My new iPad hasn't left my side since launch day. I love it -- the wonderful iBook reader, the incredible speed and fluidity of the web browser and the rich colors and sharpness of the display. I've also been wowed by the quality of many of the third party apps in the App store. For example, both the to-do list Things and the Bloomberg News applications demonstrate the potential of the iPad to introduce exciting new ways of interacting with a computer.

With that said, there's definitely still some lemons in the iPad App Store. But, with iPad apps being a brand-new enterprise, it's reasonable to expect that third party developers who only recently got their hands on their own iPad just some need time to learn how best to utilize the iPad's form factor.

One app that I (along with a growing contingent online) am incredibly disappointed with is produced by the one company who shouldn't need more time to learn the device -- Apple, Inc. I'm referring to Keynote, Apple's presentation application. Keynote for the iPad was billed as a full-featured presentation package, offering the same features and full compatibility with the wonderful desktop version. As a Keynote addict, I was incredibly excited to see how this program would be redefined by a giant touch screen.

After using the app since launch day, I'm sad to report that Apple has made some big mistakes with the iPad version of Keynote. I've noticed what many concerned and angry commenters on Apple's support forums have also noticed: the iPad corrupts and changes many Keynote presentations imported from a Mac, lacks support for custom fonts, and overall is a stripped down version of its desktop relative. I was frustrated to experience these problems because I had been so excited for the iPad's Keynote potential.

My company is fanatical about the Mac version of Keynote and we converted from Windows to Mac just because Keynote blows Powerpoint out of the water. We had planned to buy iPads for our staff because Keynote looked so darned enticing. We'd use our iPads to present, edit, and even as impromptu presenting devices by playing presentations right on the screen. Unfortunately, until Apple addresses the problems listed below, we're holding off on additional iPad purchases. Keynote for iPad 1.0 is virtually unusable for all but the most basic of user.

1. Keynote for the iPad corrupts existing Keynote documents

This is the big deal breaker for many Keynote users. Upon importing my first Keynote file to the iPad, I was stunned to find that the iPad had corrupted and altered my relatively simple presentation. File after file, and slide after slide, the iPad continued to change the layout, alter font sizes, remove transitions and lose images. In short, it ruined my documents. One would expect the iPad to open a Keynote file with all formatting and layouts perfectly intact. After all, Apple did not bill the iPad version as being stripped down, but full-featured companion to the desktop program.

The two slides above show just how the iPad corrupted even a simple layout (click here for larger version). The first shows the original slide created in Keynote '09 on my Mac. The second shows how the slide appears after importing to an iPad. For the table, the iPad changed the font sizes so much that the table is unreadable. The line chart, while somewhat intact, has different width and font size from the original. It just looks different, when it should look identical. These are simple tables and charts and the iPad couldn't handle them.

Things got worse with some of the more advanced builds and transitions that I threw at it. Additionally, I've run into problems with importing of media files. Many high-definition Quicktime movies -- which would play fine in Keynote on my Mac -- don't work on the iPad. And embedded PDFs and some image types often import improperly as well.

For someone who was looking forward to working on the iPad with documents created originally on a Mac, encountering these errors is an enormous disappointment. Because the iPad can't read Keynotes properly, I can't use it to give presentations without manually fixing every single slide.

Even worse, the file isn't just displayed improperly, but the iPad physically alters the file itself. Exporting back to the Mac brings the error-filled iPad version with it. Sometimes this exporting process even introduces further errors! The third slide above shows what happens to the slides after exporting and opening them on my Mac. The table is corrupted beyond recognition, and the line chart is also further altered from the original formatting. Definitely a far cry from the original slide, and remember, I didn't edit the slide at all-just imported and exported without touching a thing. This means that I can't use the iPad to open a presentation emailed to me, make a quick fix, and send it back to a Mac-a workflow I was very much looking forward to using.

If I've spent hours crafting the perfect presentation, the absolute last thing I want is for the iPad to arbitrarily change or erase some of my hard work. That's simply unacceptable. This major, major problem makes Keynote for the iPad almost completely worthless to anyone who wants to work with files back and forth between their Mac and iPad.

2. No support for custom fonts

Keynote for iPad ships with about 40 fonts, including mainstays like Helvetica and Georgia, as well as more stylized options like Marker Felt. But the iPad does not allow people to use their own custom fonts, presenting a significant hurdle for many users. If you like (or are required to use) a specific font that's not on the iPad's list, you are simply out of luck. Forget about using the iPad as a presenting device, as it will replace your custom fonts with those of its own choosing. My company got lucky because our mainstay font was included in Apple's list. But if you're not as fortunate as we were, you'll have to change the look of your personal or corporate branding decisions and use a font that's not your first choice...or not use Keynote on the iPad at all.

3. Problems in handling screen ratios and resolutions

The screen of the iPad is a 4x3 ratio (the ratio of most standard definition TVs and projectors). Most of the Keynote presentations I use are in the 16x9 ratio, or HD ratio, because we generally show our presentations on HDTVs instead of standard-definition projectors. Many of the templates included with Keynote for the Mac are built for the 16x9 ratio. But if I import a 16x9 presentation onto the iPad...well, you can guess what happens. The iPad attempts to scrunch everything into the 4x3 ratio and causes your layout to go all wonky in the process. If I have a background image that stretched across the whole background, the iPad displays the slide with ugly, empty bars. If I had text or pictures towards the edges of the slide, they may get cut off. To ensure a quality presentation, I must edit each and every slide to make sure it fits-something I'd very much prefer not to do. And if I bring the file back to a Mac, there's no way to easily switch back to 16x9. Yet again, the iPad changes the file permanently, and not for the better.

Additionally, if you bring in a file that is a different screen resolution than the iPad's native resolution of 1024 x 768, Keynote again has enormous problems in displaying that document. Font sizes are mangled, images resized to wrong proportions, charts look off, and even the simplest of layouts are altered for the worse. The desktop version can have problems switching resolutions as well. But it's much faster to make changes quickly on the desktop version, so resolution changes become a minor inconvenience rather than a serious stumbling block.

4. Presenter notes

Do you have detailed presenter notes embedded in your presentation? Too bad! The iPad looks at them, gives a malicious chuckle, and strips them out of the document. If you then export back to a Mac, your presenter notes will be deleted entirely.

Presenter notes can be an integral tool to a presentation. Many of our slides require presenter notes because they contain data and information that we need to reference but don't want to include on a slide. Without them, we'd have to resort to a handout or speech notes.

It would be bad enough if the iPad simply didn't display them but (it's becoming a pattern!) stripping the notes from the file itself is inexcusable. It's yet another impediment to using the Mac and iPad versions of Keynote in harmony.

5. Master slides and templates

I've spent day after day crafting perfect master slides for my company's presentations. I've precisely placed text, created charts with specific color palettes, and made various master slides for all sorts of different layouts. Well, the iPad doesn't respect my hard work -- because it both removes all of those master slides from the file and doesn't allow me to use my custom template. Instead, it forces one of the default Apple-provided iPad templates into my document. These may look slick, but I've put a good deal of time into creating my own and do not wish to use Apple's themes. Of course, if I send the file back to my Mac, my master slides and templates that were originally part of the document are removed. I would have to reapply my custom template, then reapply my master slides one at a time, hoping everything would look as it should.

For our business, we are extremely critical about making slides look uniform and precise through master slides. Removing these slides is yet another strike against Keynote for the iPad, given that it would force us to jump through too many hoops.


Apple describes Keynote for the iPad as "the powerful presentation app you love from iWork." Used on the iPad alone, Keynote for the iPad is impressively designed and demonstrative of how a touch screen has the potential to change content creation for the better. But for people expecting it to work well the desktop version, it doesn't -- at all. On Apple's own support site, they describe some (but not all) of the issues that occur when importing Keynotes. This however is merely a support doc, and the main Keynote feature page does not describe any compatibility issues between the Mac and iPad counterpart.

I adore Keynote for the Mac. My company planned to purchase iPads for everyone on staff specifically for its ability to use Keynote. The iPad version's shortcomings make it impossible for us to use Keynote in its current guise, particularly given its penchant for altering existing Keynote files and changing the current look and style of our presentations. Apple's discussion forums indicate that educators, professionals, and students have all complained about the iPad mangling their Keynote presentations. These folks represent Apple's target market for Keynote, so Apple would be well-served to keep them happy.

Keynote for the iPad has only been out for a few days, so on one hand it may be too early to rush to judgment. But on the other, I don't think it was unrealistic to expect the iPad and Mac versions to work seamlessly with one another. The potential of using Keynote on a new device and in new ways remains; Apple needs to make some significant software changes to fully realize that potential. Until the desktop and iPad version work seamlessly together, Keynote on the iPad will remain half-baked. My fingers are crossed that Apple will fix these problems soon!

Gallery: iPad version of Keynote | 3 Photos

Submitted via by special contributor Chris Anderson

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