The iPad Predicament

Like the rest of the technologically-inclined population, I have been watching the emergence of the iPad with fascination. I remember when Microsoft introduced a tablet-based PC, over 10 years ago, and either we weren’t ready for it or Bill Gates wasn’t cool enough to sell it. Steve Jobs is cool enough to sell a new computing experience and I have no doubt that his coolness quotient is responsible for some of the product’s success. Jobs’ involvement with the iPad is what makes my experience with it all the more curious.

One of the more interesting aspects of this product is that its application in modern-day society is based largely on our imagination. I have seen servers use it to take orders at restaurants and insurance adjusters collect data in the field. Just last week, while touring hotels for possible venues for the Presentation Summit, the sales manager whipped out her iPad to show me photos of sleeping rooms. Naturally curious about how well it might serve as a presentation device, I purchased one.

It is certainly sexy, like all of the products that come from Apple. And it enjoys the panache of a product that just seems to work organically and naturally. But the real test would be how well it could project my slides and how well it would allow me to function in front of a room full of people.

Microsoft does not yet offer a PowerPoint version for the iPad, but Keynote does and it costs only $10. Keynote claims to be able to open PowerPoint files, and indeed, my version 2010 files opened with little backtalk. Except for getting them there — without a USB port, file transfer to an iPad involves a mysterious journey through iTunes. Of course, Apple is happy to sell you on a MobileMe account, but I wasn’t going there. I was okay with the $10 for Keynote, but I wasn’t about to invest in a service to compensate for Apple’s refusal to embrace standard USB connectivity.

Keynote does not translate motion paths or simultaneous animations well, and my embedded objects that require the Windows OLE engine were rendered inert. But these were relatively easy fixes, and in short order, I was displaying slides that were indistinguishable from the originals.

Next task: connect it to the projector. How? Where? A device that offers no USB connection is surely to be devoid of VGA connectors. The main power and docking port is the sole conduit to the outside world (except for WiFi) and Apple was happy to sell me a VGA adapter for $29. I didn’t mind paying the $500 for the unit itself, but this $29 purchase continues to rankle me.

Still, the connector did its job and before long, Keynote was happily sharing slides with my projector. Interestingly, the unit only pumps video out to the projector when actually running a slide show. If you drop out of show mode, the external display goes blank. This means that I cannot conduct software demos and tutorials and at first that disappointed me. But I have come to terms with the fact that the iPad is not intended to replace a computer. The question is whether it can handle the basic tasks within a profession. For instance, I will not try to create a presentation on the iPad; it is enough that I be able to show one. That seems like the appropriate litmus test.

And so far so good. I had moved my slides over to it and successfully connected it to the projector. Now how about the actual delivery? I whipped out my trusty wireless remote…you know, the simple $45 gadget whose receiver connects to the USB port…crap. How about my Bluetooth remote…crap, no BT support on the iPad.

I began to search the App Store and quickly uncovered many apps with the word Remote in it, including this:

“Control iTunes, Apple TV, and other apps using your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad over your WiFi network.” I verified that it supports Keynote and I do own a Touch, so I cobbled together the $0.99 to purchase this program known simply as Remote. I would need to make sure that I have a WiFi connection and that both devices are connected to it, but that should be no problem.

Here’s where the happy ending to this story should go, but not today. Remote will allow you to advance slides on Keynote running on a Mac and you can do it from either your Touch or from an iPad. However, it will not allow you to use your Touch to advance slides from Keynote running on an iPad. This is complicated, I know, and at first I was certain that I was just being outsmarted by these little apps and small devices. So I turned to the network of Apple support forums and confirmed that there is no way to drive Keynote for the iPad remotely. An amusing battle took place on these forums:

“I want to advance slides on my iPad.”

“Just touch the screen once.”

“I need to be able to do it remotely.”

“You’re asking for too much. It’s not a computer.”

“That is not asking for too much.”

“Apple had to draw the line somewhere.”

“How do I work the slides if I can’t advance them.”

“Just place the iPad on the podium.”

I got so close — I transferred all of my slides, converted them successfully, and got all the way to the actual projection of my slides through the projector, which you would have thought to be the biggest obstacle of all. And now when it comes time to actually deliver the presentation, I am required to stand behind a podium? I have spent the last five years advocating against the use of podiums (podia?). This little gadget was about to turn me into a hypocrite.

Here is where the irony becomes almost too much to bear. Can you imagine if Steve Jobs were tasked with presenting from his iPad? The master of modern-day presentation, having to stand behind a podium??

Apple’s decision to not include a USB port with the first generation iPad has effectively prevented me from using it in my profession. That saddens me, because I had high hopes for it. And of all people, you would have thought that one of the most celebrated public speakers of our era would have made sure that his latest product would have supported his craft.

Until the iPad provides more connectivity, I will have no choice but to view it as a curiosity first and a legitimate business tool second.

7 thoughts on “The iPad Predicament”

  1. The iPad’s limited acceptance in the business world is largely due to our incorrectly assuming its to be the replacement for a laptop. Frankly, it isn’t. It has neither the power nor the ports to assume many duties. It has too little memory to take our laptop’s place.

    As a presentation tool, iPad is best served as a personal device. It is a glossy brochure that moves. It is a portfolio that lives in in vibrant color. It is a viewer of video and a player of song. It is a connectivity hub like a cellphone but with a screen you can read and an interface you can manage with clumsy fingers. Anything more is a pipedream – at least today.

    I find the iPad as a presentation device works best when it is just you and me, side-by-side, talking. I am the presentation and the iPad is my visual. Any more people and we have to pass the device around and the presentation loses impact and immediacy. As a driver for a presentations at a larger venue requiring screens and projection, it is a disaster. I have seen too many uber-techno geeks fumble and fail upon their iPad trying to make it take the place of a laptop. Their presentations suffered to the point of making them seem ridiculous and the technology bothersome and distracting.

    Personally, I find having a remote in my hand is more than enough trouble. I am fidgeting with it constantly and occasionally, accidentally moving my slides along. Having the iPad as a remote driver is more disastrous as I now have this bright screen demanding my attention in addition to serving as my slide-deck interface. It is too distracting. At this point I might as well be using a laptop.

    Aside from a one-on-one presentation media, the iPad does serve as a valuable tool in the presenter’s arsenal: It allows you to use Presenter View! With an app like Air Display, you can convert your iPad into a second screen for rehearsal purposes. Too long Microsoft has neglected the presenter’s rehearsal needs by limiting its use to multi-screen arrangements. Now you can use that iPad as a personal ‘second screen’ and rehearse with your notes in Presenter view. Heck, with careful configuration, you can use the iPad at the podium with your speaker’s notes, port the show to a projector (leaving the laptop screen black) and have live notes in your hand, preview screens, as well as a presentation remote.

    Now, you get the laptop’s power and native Window’s processing (complete with animations and motion paths-as well as OLE objects). There’s no longer a need to settle for Keynote’s interpretation of PowerPoint. It works well but you still have that shiny tablet in your hand. However, you can leave the laptop at the projector and use the wireless AirDisplay to get farther than cable distance from your machine-up to the range of the wifi to which you are connected. There is probably value in that.

    As far as Rick A’s comments on file transfer, I use an app called Dropbox to sync files between my PCs, Macs and iPads. It is far easier than the I-Tunes sync and avoids the need for cables and ports. And yes, the lack of a USB port or a file manager on the iPad is severely restricting!

    The iPad is a legitimate one-on –one presentation tool. It is also a viable second display for a road warrior. It is a passable remote. But, it is also one more thing to go wrong in the course of a presentation delivery. Beyond that, I fear functionality must improve to make the iPad into a must-have gizmo in the presenter’s arsenal.

    1. if i 133Mhz Pentium 1 can run powerpoint, then an iPad should not only run it, but design from it.

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  5. I have to agree with both Rick and Rikk (this could get confusing!) that the iPad is not a PC, even if it IS a ‘computer’ to dispel the forum user’s incorrect description.

    Rikk points out very eloquently that as a presentation device, it is strictly for one-to-one communication and for that reason alone, I thank many road warriors will adopt it as the new interactive ‘glossy brochure’. I like the fact that it falls in to this category as selling is all about relationships and it’s just not natural for human beings to stand/sit 10 feet away from each other. Getting close up and personal could actually revolutionize sales relationships, or perhaps just return us whence we came.

    We got involved in the iPad not through inquisitiveness as Rick did but through client necessity. If the truth be known, it’s actually quite nice to be forced to investigate new technologies! Our first ‘presentation on an iPad’ client came to us with the need for their field sales folks to be able to present the same PC generated PowerPoint content on their iPad devices.

    Our experience was similar to that of Rick but we found it very disturbing that Keynote forces a company to abandon all the hard work in creating a brand compliant corporate template by supporting a very limited set of fonts. The lack of animations, transitions and other whiz bang effects can be worked around but not this!

    The second issue that we considered to be unacceptable was that Keynote doesn’t support internal hyperlinks which means you can link to a Web site but not another slide. I guess this is because Apple wants to encourage the familiar swipe gesture method of UI interaction but since we’d built and invoiced for an interactive presentation, the result on the iPad was far from what the client had wanted. If one accepts its use as a one-to-one device, the very last thing you want to do is sit next to a client and present serially! You want to be able to anticipate questions and dart of in different directions in a very spontaneous way, like we do in normal conversation.

    Needless to say, we will have to support iPad presentations in the future but I sincerely hope that Keynote gets some development resource to up its game.

    Just in case Rick’s ok to include external links, our full experience can be found here:
    http://www.activepresentation.com/blog/?p=5#comment-31

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