For mobile, PowerPoint still can't match Apple Keynote

The reason: Microsoft hasn't taken the vagaries of on-the-go-environments seriously enough

For mobile, PowerPoint still can't match Apple Keynote
Credit: Corbis

Until last year, Apple's iWork suite was my go-to productivity tool on the iPad and iPhone. Then Microsoft released revised Office apps for iOS that matched iWorks' capabilities, with the advantage of integrating nicely into Office 365 and OneDrive. I could now use the standard Microsoft apps on any device and work easily with the rest of my organization, across all the devices it supports.

Despite that remarkable progress in Office, I still have to use Keynote when I'm making a presentation, even if the slideshow was created in PowerPoint. That's because Microsoft still doesn't understand how to think about mobile users as well as Apple understands them.

office 365 iphone no connection

If your device doesn't have an internet connection and you haven't stored an Office 365 file beforehand, you can't access your files in apps like PowerPoint.

Last week, when I was giving a presentation on digital transformation at the SoTech 2016 conference, I was reminded just how much I still needed Keynote.

When I travel, I almost never bring my laptop with me. My iPad is easier to carry, the battery lasts all day, and all my everyday apps are available for it. Even if I had my MacBook Pro, I would have had nearly all the same issues with PowerPoint.

powerpoint apple watch connection fail

The PowerPoint applet for Apple Watch can control only a presentation on an iPhone's PowerPoint app, not other devices.

When I arrived at the conference facility, I realized that the cellular connection was nonexistent in the meeting rooms. My particular carrier has poor coverage in the Southern California, due to long-standing sandbagging by the region's dominant carrier, and the conference hotel's physical design essentially blocked the area's weak signals from getting inside. The hotel's conference Wi-Fi also was up and down.

That meant I would not have a reliable connection to Office 365 or OneDrive. Cloud apps are great when you have good internet connections, but they fall apart when you don't. I had remembered to save my presentation locally on my iPad before I began my trip because I knew from past visits that this venue had unreliable communications.

But I had forgotten that PowerPoint doesn't let you remote-control an iPad from another iOS device -- I like to walk the stage, not stay behind the podium or projector. (It also can't remote-control a MacBook or Windows laptop that way.) I wore my Apple Watch, as I usually do when I travel, and I had planned to use the PowerPoint remote applet on it to control my presentation. But the applet controls PowerPoint on only the iPhone -- where I hadn't thought to store a local copy of the presentation.

Keynote came to my rescue. 

On the iPad, I opened the locally stored PowerPoint presentation in Keynote. Had I done that on my Mac before I left, the presentation would have automatically synced to my iPad and iPhone via iCloud Drive. Unlike Microsoft's OneDrive, iCloud Drive usually stores local copies automatically, so if you're offline you still have those recent files available. (It doesn't always sync as expected, thus "usually.")

keynote ios remote control sequence

Keynote for iOS should have automatically synced your files, so they're available with or without an internet connection when needed. Left: Tap a presentation, then tap the Remote Playback button. Center: Tap Play to begin. Right: Navigate your slides via swipes as you present.

keynote apple watch remote control default

The Keynote applet for Apple Watch after connecting to Keynote on another device.

keynote apple watch remote control enhanced

Tap and hold the Apple Watch's Keynote applet screen to get Back and Forward controls.

Keynote uses Apple's Handoff technology, so both my Apple Watch and iPhone can communicate with my iPad even without an internet connection, by using Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi Direct -- an instant network.

With my iPad connected to the projector, I could use my Apple Watch's Keynote applet or my iPhone's Keynote app -- or switch among them, if I desired -- to control the presentation on my iPad.

Neither the Apple Watch nor the iPhone needed to have the presentation to control it. All they needed was the iPad to run Keynote in presenter view, and for that iPad to have Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth turned on for a direct connection -- automatically.

powerpoint apple watch remote control default

If you have a PowerPoint presentation running on an iPhone, the Apple Watch PowerPoint applet provides both Back and Forward controls.

This is what Microsoft should be figuring out for PowerPoint. After all, when you are on the road, you're dealing with uncertain, changing environments. Apple designed for that reality; Microsoft did not.

Microsoft could certainly have PowerPoint work on Apple devices like Keynote does by using Apple's Handoff technology, but of course a big advantage of Office is that it also runs on Windows and Android devices, for which Apple's proprietary Handoff is not available. Microsoft will need to find other solutions to work across iOS, Android, MacOS, and Windows -- a tall order. On the other hand, all these platforms support the underlying network technologies that Apple uses -- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct -- so it's possible.

Microsoft tried to offer remote control for PowerPoint, but in a very fractured, incomplete manner.

As I mentioned, the PowerPoint applet exists for Office 365 PowerPoint, to control the iPhone app via Apple's Handoff technology.

Then there's the Office Remote app for Android that can remote-control a Windows PC once the two devices are paired over Bluetooth. But that app hasn't been updated for Windows 10 or Office 2016, suggesting Microsoft has abandoned it. However, it works on Office 2016 and on Windows 10, so you can use it with your Surface Pro or other Windows device.

But it does you no good if your presentation device is an iPad, Android tablet, or Mac.

powerpoint android remote control sequence

With the Office Remote app, an Android smartphone can control a PowerPoint presentation running on a Windows PC. Left to right: First, in the Office Remote app, pair the PC and Android phone via Blueooth. Then, select the device to control and the presentation to control. Finally, navigate the presentation by tapping the Back and Forward buttons as you present.

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