Keynote for iPad is Necessary and Sufficient

| In-Depth Review

The Keynote app for the iPad is a necessary addition to the suite of apps for most users. Even if one is not often preparing formal presentations, it’s a great way to collect and manage information from the photo library — or view already created content in, say, PowerPoint (.PPT, .PPTX, .PPS, .PPSX) It doesn’t have the power of its big brother on the Mac, but it doesn’t need to. It is supremely sufficient.

When reviewing an app like this, my first question is: “What is the scope and intended use of the app?” The answer calibrates my expectations for this US$9.99 program. The answer is that this program is designed to be a supplement to the iWork ‘09 version for the Mac, not replace it. I perceive that the user will either be viewing Keynote and PowerPoint slides or creating a set of modest slide on the fly. For that, one needs only a minimum of capability.


Also, because one must use finger gestures only, the Apple developers needed to figure out the essential subset of features that could be handled by gestures. If that subset, the operation of the program, and the intuitive nature of the operations is pleasing, then the program can be considered a success.

I consider Keynote 1.0 for the iPad to be a full success on all counts.

Basic Operation

Just as with its big brother, the user starts with the selection of a theme. A few of the themes are found on the Mac version and some are new. Instead of 44, we get a subset of just nine. It would have been useful to have the nine offered to be found on the Mac side as well, but it’s hard to prove how some new and different themes in the subset matters.

After selecting a theme, you get the same display as the Mac version: a list of slides on the left and a large work area. All the operations you’ll perform are either with gestures or with the action icons on the upper right: (L-R) 1) Change font, 2) Add a photo, 3) Add Animation, 4) Options 5) Show full screen.


The first thing you’ll probably want to do is start to create some introductory text; just double-tap to bring up the keyboard. The next thing you may want to do is import some pictures from your photo library. (Make sure you have what you’ll need before starting.) Cut, copy, paste and the Inspector control the text. To resize a photo, just finger pinch. Or rotate with pinched fingers. There are natural detents at 90, 180, 270, so the photo tends to naturally line up right.

Keynote-3 Import Photos with a Popover

Keynote-4 Selecting Text

Keynote-5 Rotating Photo

The Action Icon for Options has a link to help, which is pretty darn good.

Keynote-6 Keynote Help

File Transfers

The weakest past of Keynote for the iPad is the way one has to transfer files to and from the Mac. Ted Landau had a lot to say about this recently, and Apple’s official page for how to do it also reveals the awkwardness of the process. You can either connect the iPad to a Mac via the 30-pin-to-USB cable and work via the Apps tab in iTunes or, alternatively, e-mail presentations back and forth. is really intended for sharing with others and isn’t listed on the above link.

When receiving the e-mail on the iPad, simply touch the attachment, it’ll open, and you’ll see a button on the upper right that says, “Open in Keynote”. That will, in effect, save the attachment as one of your Keynote presentations.

I won’t get into a rant about this because we’re all accustomed to e-mailing photos around, and e-mailing Keynote presentations is just as easy. I agree with Mr. Landau, however. The Apple recommended file sharing via iTunes constitutes cruel and unusual customer punishment.


Using e-mail, I imported a 1.5 MB Keynote presentation from the Mac, and it looked great on the iPad. However, a much larger 11.2 MB file, transfered via file sharing would not import. I got this error:

Keynote-7File Transfer Failure

I created several presentations and modified imported ones. I rearranged slides by dragging them. If you don’t work too hard at taxing the program, it works as intended and is a joy. However, if you actively look for trouble, for example, using different fonts on the iPad, I believe you’ll find it.

Clearly, this first version will need some work. And that will happen. We’ve seen it over and over again with Apple and the first versions of its apps. Remember the first version of Numbers on the Mac? QED.

I didn’t have a projector to test with, but I did note that a review at pointed out that, only Apple’s included apps will display with the VGA adapter. Netflix and ABC Player failed, according to the reviewer, probably due to licensing and DRM issues.

The End

I have considerable experience with Keynote on the Mac side, and I was fairly pleased with what I could do on the iPad. As I said in the intro, I consider the iPad version to be a version 1.0, a casual system for transferring already existing presentations or for example, creating modest presentations in a hotel room while on travel.

Some users have gone overboard in the forums and complained about very complex presentations not working right. And I had my own transfer failure. Others have complained about file corruption — something I didn’t experience.

Some day, perhaps in 2014, when we’re all using fourth generation iPads for content creation, Keynote for iPad version 5 will be super robust. But not today. If you understand the scope and limitations of this $10 app, you won’t be disappointed. However, if you pour over it, stressing it to the limits, and expecting the same robustness you get out of the Mac version you may be disappointed. Except for file transfers, I think Apple hit the sweet spot with this first version.

Product: Keynote for iPad

Company: Apple, Inc

List Price: US$9.99



Inexpensive, easy to learn, compatible with Mac version, fun to use, excellent Help page, outputs to VGA projector (with adapter) for presentations.


Limited power, awful file transfer procedure to/from Mac.

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R. Mansfield

You state in the first paragraph that Keynote won’t open .pptx files. However it opens them just fine. Have you tried this?

John Martellaro

I was mistaken.  Text was edited.  See:


From what I’ve read it seems that complex presentations lose data when imported into Keynote for iPad. That’s inexcusable. For you to defend such behaviour in an application is simply mind boggling.

Even if the iPad version isn’t a robust editing environment it must preserve the original formatting and be a 1st class playback environment.

John Martellaro

Bregalad.  To describe behavior you only read about, but which I did not experience personally —and then accuse me of defending such behavior is also mind boggling.

If I actually do encounter such behavior by Keynote, I’ll report it.

R. Mansfield

You know, I think a lot of us were somehow expecting Keynote on the iPad to be an exact equivalent to Keypad on the Mac. Obviously, it can’t be. Yes, there are some shortcomings, but I’ve found it to be quite usable and have already used it to teach two groups of about fifty adults each. I WANT it to work because I love the portability of the iPad. I can walk into a room with nothing but the iPad and a VGA connector, plug in and teach a class. That’s wonderful!

Therefore, I’ve chosen to work around the limitations of the current version of Keynote for the iPad, but I have no doubt that it will improve over time. Everything does.

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