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Apple's Keynote vs Microsoft's PowerPoint: Don't get your hopes up

I was just wondering what your thoughts are (if any) on Apple's Keynote, in comparison to Microsoft's PowerPoint.

-- Goran N. Halusa (email)

Response to Apple's Keynote vs Microsoft PowerPoint

The examples of statistical graphics in Keynote are as weak as the PowerPoint templates.

-- Edward Tufte

With characteristic Apple elegance, Keynote produces more gracefully designed slides than clunky PP. Keynote is useful as PP slide reader. Both Keynote and PP serve as competent Projector Operating Systems: projecting full screen color images and videos.

About 80% of the deep problems with PP, however, are also problems with Keynote since there is inherent defect in slideware: low resolution, replacing sentences with grunts, relentless sequentiality, and so on through the rest of the problems. About 80% of my essay could just as well be called The Cognitive Style of Slideware: Pitching Out Corrupts Within.

Consequently, slideware redesigns are largely futile exercises; solutions for serious technical reporting are found in good technical reports, not in the interior redecorating of slides. My essay is largely about what happens to the quality of evidence and analysis when passing through slideware. Patches for PP and slide redesigns by commercial artists cannot solve those problems for technical reports.

All history of improvements in human communication is written in terms of improvements in resolution: to produce, for viewers of evidence, more bits per unit time, and more bits per unit area. Slideware is contrary to that history. Trading in reductions in resolution for user convenience or for pitching may useful in mass market products or in commercial art, but not for technical communications. The solution is not to rescue slideware design; the solution is to use a different, better, and content-driven presentation method. On this solution, see our thread PowerPoint Does Rocket Science--and Better Techniques for Technical Reports

-- Edward Tufte

On screen resolution & time-based infographics

ET, regarding improvements in resolution: We're already starting to give high-definition presentations, which does help the situation. My own guess is that at the distances crowds view projected screens, more resolution beyond that will not add much.

As to the quality of evidence and analysis, I have found (coming from the print design world) that time-based animations - when done well - can add an additional layer of understanding that static illustrations cannot. More time is involved in development, of course.

I find slideware (I'm obviously a Keynote fan) more useful for persuading, or providing limited [in scope] presentation of data. My presentations are all about persuasion, not info delivery.

Any good examples of time-based infographics out there?

-- Allan White (email)

Response to Apple's Keynote vs Microsoft PowerPoint

I agree that resolution will not help. I can completely cover a typical projected screen by holding up an index card (3 by 5 inches) at arms length. No matter the resolution, there is a limit to the amount of data I can fit on an index card.

-- Bil Kleb (email)

Response to Apple's Keynote vs Microsoft PowerPoint

Yes, you can cover a projection screen by a note card held at arm's length, but the point is that you can actually carry the card closer to your eyes and improve the resolution. That's rather low tech, but it works pretty well.

Yes, there is a limit to the amount of data you can get on a note card but you can easily get bigger note cards and hand them out to the audience so that they can put them as close to their faces as they like.

Heck, you could print things at super resolution and hand out magnifying glasses. What a great giveaway that would be!

National Geographic last month had a map of the US as its insert. Folded it measures 6 inches by 7.5 inches. Unfolded, it is 20 times as large (approximately 24 by 36), and it is 2-sided. One side is your typical politcal map, with states and highways and rivers and such. The other side is entitled "History of the Land" and includes annotations (in complete sentences, no less!) with subtle state boundaries and some more major highways. I don't want to think of the projection equipment that would be necessary to show this information on the computer screen.

Time, of course, is often-times best encoded graphically through the use of time; as such, data movies can be quite compelling. Getting these to survive the transformation into static paper-space is difficult. The real challenge, as least in my work, is to get the movies to do things in a high enough resolution to make the move from high-resolution paper to low-resolution computer worthwhile. Does the trade-off of movieness for resolution buy us increased understanding? If so, we ought to use the method or methods that improve our understanding of the process that is generating the data.

-- rafe donahue (email)

Response to Apple's Keynote vs Microsoft PowerPoint

Here is an example of time-based infographics. It shows how the incidence of prostate carcinoma has evolved over the past 30 years. The changing numbers inset into the graph are not relevant here, other than the year. The enormous increase in prostate cancer cases in the early 1990's was probably due to the introduction of the PSA blood test. The bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

I am struggling with a way to present this on paper.

 Age-specific incidence of prostate carcinoma 1973-2003

-- Jim Brody (email)

On screen resolution, data density, and animation

Rafe brings up some interesting points. Here's my take on a few things (bullets! Hide!):

  • Rafe asks, "Does the trade-off of 'movieness' for resolution buy us increased understanding? If so, we ought to use the method or methods that improve our understanding of the process that is generating the data?" In my opinion, it can - but only in the hands of craftsmen who understand the medium. Any fool with PowerPoint can dumbly animate their facts & figures across the screen.
  • I'd be curious to hear some constructive critique of Al Gore's recent movie, An Inconvenient Truth. This would be a perfect example of a test of the question above. I haven't seen it myself, but the response seems to prove the value of a high-res (it is HD res) presentation that is both persuasive and true to the data. Do any E.T. forum members have any comments on that? (Excuse me if this has already been discussed).
  • Some discussion about the presentations he used:

Please note: I'm not trying to be a Gore cheerleader (some of the comments in the above links bring excellent critique of his conclusions) - but I am very interested in how new technology can support speakers and their messages. This seems to be an example of this done well.

-- Allan White (email)

I prefer Keynote for creating presentations because it's elegant and intuitive to use. PP looks especially clunky next to it. But I agree that Keynote falls into the same kinds of hamfisted communication methods. It just looks a whole lot better while doing it, so maybe there's an added danger in the elegance.

I also like Keynote because it allows you to export slides to jpgs and gives the option of saving each new bit of info to a new slide. I put the jpgs on my iPod (30GB, color screen) and use the photo capabilities for my presentation. Saves lugging a laptop to a conference. All my gear--cables, ipod, infrared dock and remote control--fit in one pocket and weigh less than six oz.

After years of boredom with speakers using PP and reading their boring slides to me, I did something kind of strange this past fall. I made a Keynote presentation with no text. I made handouts with my stats in legible and understandable charts that people could refer to during the talk and take home later. I only had images on my slides, using Keynote's superior shadowing and animation options to make them look really nice. Then I talked, using the images to support and illustrate my message. No charts, no words, no bullets.

Four months later I'm still getting email from people who were in the audience saying it was the most memorable presentation they'd seen all year. Funny thing is, I'd given the same talk with a screen full of text and hadn't gotten any reaction by email at all.

I'm going minimal from now on.

-- Jay Johnson (email)

Response to Apple's Keynote vs Microsoft PowerPoint

On the other hand, if you do want to pitch, Keynote may be the best tool available. I have seen it used by Lawrence Lessig and Aaron Swartz (separately) for pitching. Their technique somebody called "Slides as chorus", and it works like this: The presenter speaks fluently and never, ever refers to the slides or reads from them. Each slide contains either a picture or a very short string of text, perhaps just one word. As he is speaking, he advances the slides in sync with what he is saying; there can be several slides per sentence. It works very well to help a skilled pitcher create emotional fervor. Both of their presentations were very fast-paced and almost without pauses.

You can see Lessig's presentation (on copyright and what he calls "free culture") here (or on the TED site):

-- David McCabe (email)

Response to Apple's Keynote vs Microsoft PowerPoint

I've been happy, in the last 5 years, with my switch from 35 mm slides to digital projectors. I project photographs and do not use charts or text slides, although I sometimes add titles to images.

I prefer Keynote for of its superior interface and because it reads the Adobe 1998 RGB color space properly. Power Point can't seem to read color spaces and washes out the image. This problem occurs primarily when work is color adjusted in Photoshop and then brought into PowerPoint, and it seems most prominent when the originating color space is fairly wide (such as Adobe 1998). If you must use PP the workaround is to convert (not assign) the image in Photoshop to "Generic RGB" first, and then it will be displayed properly.

Digital photographs or scans can look very good despite the relatively low resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels. I recently attended an art lecture with two speakers back to back -- one used a computer projector and the other showed traditional slides. Many of the images were the same in each lecture, and I would guess that for the vast majority of the 200 + audience members the computer projector had the superior image quality. They were bigger, brighter, displayed very good color, and were sharp (if lacking in fine details when viewed close up). The images were of paintings, and the originals were in a nearby gallery which helped verify these observations. Perhaps for people in the very front, there was a bit more detail to be had in the traditional slides, but in general they were darker with an amber cast that deadened some of the colors.

I have also seen very poor quality images from digital projectors, usually due to the operator choosing wacky preset adjustments available in the projector menus, or from poor quality source files.

-- wwick (email)

We've had good luck with some more recent projectors that put out lots of lumens. Lots of lumens really helps, especially because of the ambient light in many rooms. Usually art schools have well-darkened meeting rooms that are good for projecting images.

I think that images can now be stored right in the projector, although we currently use Keynote as our Projector Operating System.

-- Edward Tufte

Response to Apple's Keynote vs Microsoft PowerPoint

Working with archaeologists, who are by trade biased towards visual presentations, I have been able to observe that, given the choice (= working on Macs) and an equal training ground (many are used to PP, have to be introduced to Keynote), most of my colleagues end up preferring Keynote.

Reasons: the intuitive interface, the elegant workflow, the superior quality of typesetting, and the reliable handling of imported graphic formats.

Nervous breakdowns caused by last-minute PP breakdowns are also avoided.

Keynote is taught to be used mainly as the projection tool rather than a presentation system.

I also routinely encourage my colleagues to export their slides as Acrobat PDF multi-page documents for portability (i.e. where Keynote is unavailable). Using PDF for the projection, with Acrobat or even the remarkable but underrated Preview app on OS X Macs, leads to leaner presentations with a minimum of gimmicks.

A digression into the evolutionary analysis of software development: it is interesting to note that the "ur"-PowerPoint was initially created by the same outfit as the "ur"-FileMaker DBMS. Their user interfaces shared a number of features. FileMaker eventually got under Apple's wing, PP was bought by Microsoft. Compare the present state of their respective user interface.

-- Chris Lucianu (email)

Response to Apple's Keynote vs Microsoft's PowerPoint

I don't use PowerPoint or Keynote - I learned Macromedia Director and Flash (thoroughly) before I ever got my hands on PowerPoint or Keynote so they've always seemed laughable to me.

I do a lot of teaching and in my various lectures and I've always be shy of the Powerpoint approach, because anything worth demonstrating 'in person' requires something more than the screen-based approach. I wont comment on the class of things which are presented 'in person' which would be better presented via a flyer or pamphlet. I'd recommend presenters learn something about body language, rhetoric or even something like NLP (which is unfashionable but still useful).

The thing to remember is that you are the performer/communicator, your slides are (at best) illustrative. If you get really good, you can use the 'distraction factor' of slideware to your advantage.

This whole debate about PowerPoint reminds me rather of the mid 1990s shift from the card-index metaphor (Hypercard to the dynamism of tools like Flash (multiple simultaneous timelines). If the screen display should be really useful, and really illustrative, it should demonstrate relationships between (potentially dynamic) data sources. Powerpoint certainly fails there, and Keynote is scarcely better. If you just need bullet points and statistical diagrams, use PDF/Acrobat/Preview. If you need more sophistication, learn to use Flash or Director and you'll have more useful options available.

If I need to illustrate my lectures, I'll typically throw together a Director presentation, with a little custom scripting, or perhaps if it should be more linear (an art historical lecture, for example) I might go for a PDF presented with Apple Preview (yes, Preview is indeed a remarkable and underrated tool!)

PowerPoint is what you use when you don't know any better (in which case you probably shouldn't be lecturing in the first place).

-- Brennan Young (email)

Response to Apple's Keynote vs Microsoft's PowerPoint

Only making matters worse, it appears that Google are coming out with a web equivalent of PowerPoint to add to their Google Apps suite. The main difference is that it does not offer as many 'features' as PowerPoint. Perhaps that's a blessing in disguise, although I shudder to think what kind of horrors will now be visited upon us...

-- Will Oswald (email)

Response to Apple's Keynote vs Microsoft's PowerPoint

Presentation Zen is an awesome site with some what-not-to-do methods in Powerpoint as well as other ways of doing presentations.

-- Bill Paton (email)

Response to Apple's Keynote vs Microsoft's PowerPoint

Perhaps the purest reproduction of Lessig's presentation, courtesy of Leonard Lin.

-- Niels Olson (email)

Response to Apple's Keynote vs Microsoft's PowerPoint

Another slides-as-chorus presenter, Dick Hardt, here at OSCON 2005:

I haven't seen Swartz' presentation*, but Hardt and Lessig, and for that matter Gore, are delivering a notion, a way ahead. Perhaps slides-as-chorus is good for this sort of talk. ET's use of material in his one-day course is not so dissimilar. Compared to the one-day course, slides-as-chorus is actually rather one-dimensional. However, slides-as-chorus plays quite well on the Internet. I don't know how an ET course would fair on the Internet in comparison, though I suspect it may hold its own.

For serious, methodical analysis, slides remain a fantastically poor choice.

*Aaron Swartz was hanging out with Lessig before he was shaving.

-- Niels Olson (email)

Response to Apple's Keynote vs Microsoft's PowerPoint

While researching about William McDonogh's Cradle to Cradle approach to design, I came across a digital and normal whiteboard system (available here) that is certified silver on his system.

This system does seem to provide the professional look required, but at the same time the flexibility required for an effective presentation.

-- Bill Paton (email)

Response to Apple's Keynote vs Microsoft's PowerPoint

Presentation tools' weaknesses have been discussed quite thoroughly. The spatial information permitted within these tools is certainly well known as lacking. Much of the above discussion is regarding the presenter's view point -- how hard or easy to use the tools, their fitness for a specific purpose, etc.

What is most central is what happens after the presentation. In the corporate world, "slides" are sent around to various agencies, many of whom did not attend the presentation. One of the major points made in Professor Tufte's work is that context is everything. If a presentation requires a presenter, it should never be sent to anyone else. If it can not stand on its own with intelligence and language constructs which accurately convey the intended meaning, it should not be sent without a copy of the presenter giving their pitch.

Just a few minutes ago I encountered a slide on my boss's CPU which said "so and so is operational." I challenged him to define what that meant, and he ultimately agreed that it would have been more true to say "so and so is barely breathing". The point -- in my view, the most central point in Professor Tufte's essay -- is that the author can lie about the facts and get away with it because no one thinks critically about the content. They often distort the facts by placing "contrary data" to the title directly underneath as a means of CYA. They then feel as though they've been intellectually honest as "the facts are there." This is now, as pointed out, a cultural phenomenon and is beyond detrimental.

Context is everything. If the data you need to present is difficult, spend the time to create a means which can stand alone (i.e. without you present!) so that the reading audience knows the context, understands the facts you are presenting, and is clearly and cleanly informed as to the consequence of these facts. No flowering marketing language. Don't hide behind "operational" when "barely breathing" is the truth. Titles in PP are king. If you have to use the tool, you the author have a responsibility to assume your readers will not be present at your presentation and that you need to communicate truth enough via the title alone that the context of the slide is properly set.

I, for one, am on a personal mission to seek to change the culture of senior management within the Fortune 500 company I work for, by personally appealing to each senior manager with a copy of this Essay. I figure that this could be the best $7 per person I've ever spent in my life. If a single Fortune 500 company can become substantially more effective by NOT using PP, or at least using it more critically, eventually the corporate numbers will catch up to this fact and the corporation will pull away from its competitors. That in turn could lead to major changes in other corporations and in corporate culture. All it takes is one major CEO to say 'From now on, you are to use MS Word for presentations, NOT PowerPoint. Deal with it.'

-- Glenn Baxter (email)

Keynote runs rings around PowerPoint all day long.

PowerPoint is long overdue some advancing, all that ever happens is the interface is redesigned to look a little flashier and usually harder to use.

In response to Jim Brody's problem - Keynote would allow you to drop in the video. Keynote is full of features inherent within Apple software. Integration is a key part of this allowing you to easily drop videos from your imovie collections or photo's from your iphoto library. This creates an easy way of organising and finding the files your after.

It's also important compare the tools. Microsoft PowerPoint has none; in Keynote it is easy to drop in a photo, remove a background and use a video as the background instead. Tools like this are essential in avoiding death by powerpoint.

Ever wondered why Microsoft's presentations are always called 'keynote presentations'?

Check out this photo:

-- Liam McAvoy (email)

Threads relevant to PowerPoint:
Compares tables, slopegraphs, barcharts for showing cancer survival rates.
A look at a rich and complex question: What are the the causes of presentations?

An intriguing but under-explored topic.
Account of the role of PP in the shuttle Columbia accident, followed by many good alternative methods and examples for technical presentations.
Mainly recent examples of leaked PP slides in the Iraq war.