Keynote 6.0: The Best Presentations App, Simplified

Among the many apps unveiled at Apple’s Fall special event were long-overdue new versions of the iWork apps for the Mac. We had to wait almost five years to see Keynote version bump from 5.0 (aka iWork ’09) to 6.0, which was almost as long as the wait between between 1.0 and 5.0. But it’s been worth the wait for the most part.

The brand new Keynote 6 brings a completely revamped UI and new features to Apple’s venerable presentation app. Let’s see how far Apple went in re-thinking the app that powers all of the company’s own presentations.

Streamlined, Mix and Match UI

Apple, with a touch of their famed reality distortion field, describes Keynote’s new user interface as “stunning”. I’d rather say its streamlined. What strikes you most in Keynote 6 is its extreme simplification. There’s no doubt that there were “a thousand no’s for every yes” when they re-thought the UI.

There is now a unique toolbar at the top of the window, one you cannot edit as you could the previous version’s toolbar. It only includes 14 buttons —  almost a third of what was in previous versions — without a single superfluous one.

Screenshot of the whole UI in Keynote 6.0

The new UI in Keynote 6.0 is a lot less cluttered…

Screenshot of the whole UI in Keynote 5.0

…than in the previous version (5.0 is shown here).

Gone is the Inspector palette. In its place, there’s a new right sidebar that appears when when you click one of the three right-most buttons in the top toolbar. The Format Panel, the default right sidebar you’ll be using most often is context-aware, which is awesome. Click on a Text Box and you get access to font sizes, styles, alignment and so on; click on an image and you can control borders, shadows, opacity and other image-related settings. It’s similar in a way to the Office ribbon, and yet smarter — plus, it fits a lot better on wide screens by pushing the tools from the toolbar to the sidebar.

Screenshot showing text-related settings in the Format Panel

The Format Panel on the right automatically updates based on selection, showing here text-related options…

Screenshot showing image-related settings in the Format Panel

… and here image-related options.

Screenshot of the Insert Charts popup window.

An example among the numerous popups featured in the new UI.

Another striking difference is that popups are now all over the place, from the toolbar buttons to the extra formatting options in the right sidebar. They’re the first obvious bit of iOS 7 style in OS X, and yet they look perfectly at home on the Mac today.

The UI also features some nice animations touches:

  • Adding new slides make them literally jump out from the popup to the main window.
  • The Format Panel slides (no pun intended) in and out, and the canvas automatically resizes to fill the remaining window space.

There’s been, and still is, a lot of speculation about what interfaces might look like in upcoming OS X versions in context with the all-flat, minimalistic iOS 7 design. The first touch of that is the new sidebars and popovers in the iWork apps, which in many ways seem to point to the future of Apple’s design. I wouldn’t say that the new iWork UI is flatter, per se, but it definitely is less cluttered, more concise, much akin to what you get with iTunes 11 and iBooks. I’d love this trend to extend to the OS X user interface in general.

Screenshot of the Share menu

A Share button (left) that will look familiar to any iOS 7 user.

That’s not to say there aren’t some inconsistent design choices. The UI still looks like it’s in a transitional state, where forward-thinking elements sit next to almost dated ones. The Share button, for instance, is largely inspired by the new up-arrow-coming-from-a-box button as seen everywhere in iOS 7.

Screenshot illustrating the transparency of some UI elements

Why transparent, Apple?

On the other hand, the View and Zoom buttons produces old-style dropdown lists that seem a bit dated and weird, especially because these are the only semi-transparent elements in the UI.

Also, there is a somewhat ugly glitch that appears on every “modern-style” popup attached to the top toolbar buttons: the left, triangular button that lets you browse through the contents of the popup appears as if it was permanently selected. This leaves a kind of a bitter, beta-feeling aftertaste. Hopefully this will be fixed in a forthcoming update.

Easier to Use, With Shiny New Features

The new Keynote comes with a brand new selection of themes. However, in lieu of the multiple slide sizes that were tailored to all screen resolutions, the interface is now simplified and you just choose between Standard or Wide versions. Here again, simplification is key.

Screenshot showing the new Theme Chooser

The theme chooser features 30 gorgeous new and updated themes available in Standard (4:3) or Wide (16:9) formats.

Basically, creating and filling up slides remain the same: you get several templates with placeholders where you just need to click to type text and drag and drop images to replace the default ones.

Adding new slides is done with the only UI element that is located at the bottom of the window: the plus button on the far left. Clicking on the big + button reveals another popup with mini previews for each possible slide layout available, much like what you’d expect from previous versions of Keynote.

Screenshot showing the Add Slide popup.

Getting an idea of the slide you’re going to add is easy with the new Add a Slide popup.

Inserting tables is easier than ever, thanks to a large choice of elegant style presets that match your theme perfectly. And yes, change your slide theme, and you’ll immediately find different tables styles. It’s a simplified way of making everything look great without you having to do the heavy lifting.

Screenshot showing one of the predefined table styles for a given theme

This bare bones table style is specific to this theme. Notice that other available choices (in the Format Panel on the right) have colors that perfectly match the current theme.

Modifying the table layout is also a vastly enhanced experience, as you don’t have to drill down into obscure panels to find buttons. Basic actions are done directly on the canvas, thanks to drop down lists and increment buttons that appear with just a click when hovering over table elements. It’s similar to the way tables work in the new Numbers, without the logic behind the cells.

Screenshot showing on canvas actions for tables

Basic actions are done in a snap, with settings direcly accessible on the content.

Adding charts and editing their data is easy as always and the UI is, again, more elegant than with previous versions.

Screenshot showing an histogram and its editable date.

You can easily format charts and edit their data with elegant UI and well-thought elements.

A shiny new addition is the ability to insert interactive charts. These allow you to display different data sets — say, evolution over time — within the same chart. In creation mode, these interactive charts come up with a slider so you can choose how things will look like for each set of values. While presenting, they will simply be automatically showed one after another with a smooth animation in between.

Animated screenshot showing an interactive chart.

An interactive chart in action. Move the slider at the bottom to jump to a different set of values.

You also get new and updated cinematic transitions, “Magic Moves” and animations, that I’ll let you discover by yourself. The best new animations let you individually animate elements on your slide when transitioning to a new slide, which works very nice if you use the same background throughout your presentations. What is really nice is that, instead of the tiny preview you got in Inspector with previous versions, you can now have a live on-canvas preview of effects before deciding to apply them, just like you had in Keynote for iPad.

Screenshot showing a live on-canvas preview of the Clothesline slide transition

You now get live previews of animation directly on the canvas. Here is the new Clothesline effect.

There’s more changes, too, in the tiny details in Keynote. Among other welcome additions, you’ll notice that text now automatically resizes (most notibly, the font size automatically decreases) to fit text boxes. Almost everything has been re-thought so that you just have to focus on your content and message and how to make it pop, and not on how to achieve all of this by trying to find items hidden in menus or toolbars. And if you’re still a bit lost, you can easily show “Coach tips” with a click of the yellow question mark button in the toolbar.

Collaboration Made Easy, but Flawed on the Web

You can add still comments on your slides. But instead of the Sticky Notes style of Keynote ’09, comments now look a bit like a mini version of what’s offered in the new Notes app UI of Mavericks.

Screenshot showing a comment

The comments looks more modern now. But they can’t be seen in your web browser.

Accessing and sharing presentations has been made easy with iCloud integration. Unfortunately, iWork’s iCloud web apps are still in beta in your web browser and offer a limited feature set for now. For instance, editing charts and tables is currently impossible. Comments added on the Mac are not visible on the web, which is a major drawback for efficient collaboration. Also, while edits done on your Mac are almost instantly reflected on iCloud.com (the browser notifies you of some modifications and offers to reload the page to display them), it does not seem to work flawlessly the other way round. Instead, I had to close and re-open my presentation in Keynote on the Mac to see changes made on the web.

A Much Welcome Update

Waiting for new iWork versions has almost been as long as waiting for the winter to end in Westeros. But it’s been worth it, especially for Keynote. The new Keynote is easier on the eyes and easier to use — at least for beginners, as expert users might at first be a little surprised by the complete overhaul. The app features more than just a fresh coat of paint (not without glitches and inconsistency, though) and adds some nice, attractive new features. However, collaboration is flawless only if people you invited also use the OS X version, not the web app.

Let’s hope future updates to both the OS X and web apps will convert this great software into an almost perfect one. Anyway, since updating is now free (but requires you to run OS X Mavericks), you risk nothing making the jump, especially since the install won’t delete your old iWork ’09 folder. And, if you buy a new Mac, iWork comes free along with the long-included iLife apps.

Whether you love or hate the new Keynote, we’d love to hear your thoughts about the new app in the comments below.


Summary

Keynote's long overdue update features more than just a fresh coat of paint (not without glitches and inconsistency, though). It adds some nice, attractive new features. However, collaboration is flawless only if people you invited also use the OS X version, not the web app.

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