Let’s face it: the Microsoft Office suite has largely dominated the workplace productivity landscape for the better part of two decades. Even as worthy competitors have arisen, the “industry standard” nature of the programs has pushed them to the side. Now however, as there are evolving spheres of software platforms, developers are working to incorporate that standard into their products. Web and mobile apps are providing support for importing the dreaded .docx, .xlsx and .pptx formats.
While Microsoft seemingly crawls toward the release of their first-party Office iPad app, it is being beaten to the punch. There are umpteen text editors for iOS, some full office suite alternatives, and of course, Apple’s own iWork set to compete with. But now, SlideShark has chosen to concentrate solely on presentations. So how does it fare? Read on to find out!
PowerPoint on the iPad
SlideShark is the creation of Brainshark, a company that helps users create online videos from their PowerPoint presentations. Needless to say, this company knows its way around slides and information dissemination. In its basic form, SlideShark is just an easy-to-use PowerPoint viewer, something that was missing from the iPad for a long time. Prior to SlideShark, the iPad version of Keynote worked, but it was never native and it didn’t support the fun stuff like animations. The iPad is often favored for its portability and flexibility, and without a true presentation app, one could not argue as strongly for its workplace merits. Luckily, SlideShark delivers, letting you take your PowerPoint presentations on the road. That alone is a killer feature for many, especially when considering its low, low price of free — but there are other great tools.
iPad + Web app + options = a great app
The app is a perfect example of a cloud connection. You can upload presentations from your computer or — if your presentation is attached to an email — from your iPad. Once you get a presentation into SlideShark, you still need to open the app and download it from the cloud. There are two ways of looking at this: a) it’s annoying because it should sync automatically or b) the app’s developers are allowing the user to choose if he/she wants to fill the iPad hard drive with presentation files by bringing them from the cloud individually.
In addition to these two methods of transfer, you can use the Box.com plug-in to send files over from your cloud storage drive. Note that Box is the only cloud storage service that has dedicated integration with SlideShark (Dropbox allows you to open a PowerPoint in SlideShark, though it’s not an officially supported solution). If you use another service such as SkyDrive or Google Drive, you’re likely out of luck for now. It’s a shame really, because while Box does have some great benefits (like loads of space for new users), there are many options out there that I dare say are more popular than Box.
If you need to get a presentation into SlideShark and are away from your computer, e-mail it to yourself as an attachment. You can then hold your finger on the attachment and choose to open it in SlideShark.
SlideShark is a smooth application, and by that I mean that it flows well, is quick to operate and doesn’t have any real quirks. Once you learn the user-friendly gestures and navigation, you’ll feel right at home. Swipe right to left to move forward in a presentation, swipe left to right to move backward and swipe from the bottom to get a slide view of your presentation. The Presenter Mode is a great tool as it allows users to see the notes they’ve typed on a slide as well as a timer for maintaining pacing, and the number of animations left on a given slide. All of this is possible while still displaying the full-screen slides on a projector, so you can finally use your iPad at the podium instead of notecards or a laptop.
I didn’t run into any major glitches or unexpected bugs; everything was seamless (even when I added the Box.com tie-in app). The only mishap I ran into was a custom font not being displayed correctly in the app. It didn’t really surprise me, as it was neither a Windows nor OS X factory font. I was a little disheartened that it didn’t replace the font with something readable since SlideShark’s own Website states that the app “preserve[s] animations, fonts, graphics and colors.” However, I uploaded a second PowerPoint with a custom font, and it converted it to a readable version so perhaps the original attempt just got mangled as it made the transition from Windows to OS X and then to SlideShark. Lesson learned: with custom fonts, your mileage may vary.
For being an app dedicated solely to presentations, I was left desiring more editing features. The only editing to be found is hiding slides and/or rearranging them. I know it’s difficult to build true editing features into an app like this, and it’s not necessarily trying to be a PowerPoint replacement, but I would have expected some annotation options at the very least.
Nitpicking aside, SlideShark does have some great features:
- If you hold your finger down on a slide, a laser pointer shows up that you can drag around the slide to highlight items.
- The aforementioned Presenter mode has a slide timer and allows users to view their notes as they present. This can be quite handy when presenting directly from your iPad.
- You can share a presentation for viewing from your online account simply with a link. The link takes the viewer to a short video presentation of your PowerPoint, hosted from your SlideShark account.
- It is compatible with Airplay via AppleTV or you can display your presentation on a TV or projector via the iPad to HDMI or VGA cable dongle.
If you find yourself running out of space on your 100MB-limited SlideShark account, you can pay $49 per year for an extra 500MB of storage or $98 per year for an extra gigabyte. Need more space, but don’t have the extra funds? You can refer friends to add 25MB per referral to your account for free, similar to Dropbox. If PowerPoint presentations are a key component to your daily life (sales, et al.) you may want to consider the Team Edition for $149 per year. It comes with the ability to create/control permissions and get reports of how many times a presentation has been viewed, which might come in handy if you’re posting the presentation publicly on the Web.
When SlideShark was first released, it pioneered an easy way to view PowerPoint presentations on the iPad. As it has matured, Brainshark has built in many new features and functionality with more promised to come this summer. The app is obviously in a difficult place: with its sole purpose being dedicated to Microsoft PowerPoint files, it’s one of those products that you either really need or will rarely touch. It is free however, which begs the question, why not? Sure, SlideShark may assume that everyone has a wealth of PowerPoints they need to store when most probably do not, but at least it goes beyond the basic for those that do.