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PowerPoint for iPad review: Close but not quite there

Joe Kissell | April 4, 2014
Microsoft's PowerPoint for iPad finally makes it possible to open, edit, create, and present native PowerPoint files on your iPad, no file conversion required. This is a huge benefit for anyone who frequently uses PowerPoint on a Mac or PC but likes the iPad's portability. But comparisons with PowerPoint for OS X 2011 (4.5 mice, $119) on the one hand, and Apple's Keynote 2.0 for iOS (4.0 mice, free) on the other make it clear that, though PowerPoint for iPad is very nice as far as it goes, it doesn't go far enough.

You can adjust the front-to-back layering of each element on a slide, and you can apply any of 36 slide transitions, including 11 that don't appear in PowerPoint for OS X. Control over transitions is limited, however — for example, you can choose a direction for a wipe or dissolve effect, but not its duration, sound effects, or delays.

Unfortunately, that's pretty much the extent of what you can change on a slide. You can neither add animations nor edit animations already present in imported slideshows. (Although existing animations do appear when you play a slideshow.) There's no SmartArt and no support for audio. Any videos in a slideshow appear as static thumbnails. You can reorder slides but there's no Outline view. And although you can see comments added in the desktop version of PowerPoint, you can't edit or delete them, nor add new comments. I kept expecting to see another few tabs with more of PowerPoint's features, but they simply aren't there.

When it comes to playing a slideshow, PowerPoint is also a bit disappointing. On the plus side, as in Keynote for iOS, you can touch and hold for a simulated laser pointer, and you can write on the screen with a pen or highlighter. There's also a black-screen button, which Keynote lacks. But there's no presenter view — your slideshow always displays full screen. It's especially weird that you can add and edit speaker notes, but you can't see them during your slideshow. There's also no on-screen timer or thumbnail view while presenting, even when using AirPlay or a video adapter connected to an external display; Keynote offers both.

Microsoft declined to comment specifically on if or when any of these missing features would be added, but did point out that the company has made quite a few updates to Office 365 in the last year, and noted that it is listening to customers' feedback.

Bottom line

I was pleased to see that what's in PowerPoint for iPad works well, but there's just not enough of it yet. Keynote for iOS is, on the whole, considerably more powerful (and works even on an iPhone, which PowerPoint does not). If you're accustomed to PowerPoint 2011 on OS X, you'll almost certainly be frustrated by missing features, especially when playing a slideshow on an external display. But for all that, PowerPoint 1.0 is a good starting point, and shows considerable promise for the future.


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