Keynote for iPhone review

When Apple introduced Keynote for the iPad last year, it did a terrific job translating the desktop application’s functions to the tablet’s multi-touch interface. However, the iPad imposed limitations that made the iOS version less than ideal for creating or editing presentations on the go.

Subsequent updates remedied some of those shortcomings, adding support for presenter notes, object grouping, AirPrint, and improved PDF export. The recent 1.4 update brings Keynote to the iPhone and adds a couple of new features, but the mobile app still suffers from restrictions imposed by the hardware.

Although the iPhone and iPad apps are identical internally, the user interface changes to accommodate the iPhone’s much smaller screen. Unlike Keynote on the iPad, the iPhone version doesn’t have a toolbar icon to animate objects. Instead, you tap on the Tools icon and select Animation Mode from the list of options. Many other interface elements are arranged differently on the iPhone, so it may take a bit of hunting around to find the corresponding functions.

Tight fit

The iPhone’s small screen limits the size of the slide navigator and canvas in Keynote and hampers it in other ways, too. On the iPad, the slide navigator has room for eight slide thumbnails; the iPhone barely has room for four and the thumbnails are smaller. Because there’s no slide sorter, it’s hard to obtain an overview of a presentation – an essential perspective when you’re shuffling slides around. The tiny screen also makes it more challenging to move, resize, or rotate objects on a slide. As on the iPad, you can expand the slide canvas by pinching it open with two fingers, but it’s still difficult to manipulate objects as precisely as you can on a larger display.

Keynote 1.4 doesn’t support all of the desktop program’s features. Sometimes you can work around the limitations without much effort: for example, it’s not too difficult to find an acceptable iOS equivalent for a missing font or slide transition. But many effects, such as Smart Builds, audio tracks, object hyperlinks, and some animations, are completely absent from Keynote 1.4. The lack of Move actions, which let you choreograph complex movements of slide objects in the desktop version, is particularly frustrating. You can sometimes achieve similar results with Magic Move transitions but in many cases, there’s simply no suitable alternative.

Matters of import

If you import a presentation containing an unsupported effect or typeface, Keynote does its best to replace it with the nearest equivalent and displays a list of warnings. But, depending on the effect, the substitution may be barely acceptable or even ruin a masterwork. If you transfer the edited slideshow back to your Mac later, the substitutions remain intact. This is a serious problem if you use your iPhone to tweak presentations that you create on your Mac. As a workaround, you can export just the slides that you want to edit, but that’s just not practical.

Importing media into presentations is far less seamless than it should be, a consequence of the lack of an accessible file repository on the iPhone. Keynote only lets you grab images and movies from the iPhone’s photo albums. Adding audio clips to slides is even more awkward. To insert sound on a slide, you have to first import a presentation that contains that audio file, and then cut and paste it onto the slide.

All in all, Keynote fared better than expected on a two-year-old iPhone 3GS, but occasionally struggled to keep up while editing complex slides with many builds.

OUR VERDICT

As long as your presentations are relatively simple and don’t rely on features that aren’t supported on the iOS devices, Keynote mostly lives up to its promise. If future enhancements to the iPad let Keynote support more of the desktop version’s feature set – and Apple provides better options for importing media – the app will become an excellent presentation tool for iPad users. On smaller iOS devices, the small screen will remain a substantial hindrance until fold-out displays debut. For the time being, Keynote is worth having on your iPhone or iPod touch when you don’t have a better alternative.

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