Apple Watch presentation apps

Apple Watch apps for presentations: PowerPoint (left) and Keynote (right).

Control your presentations from the Apple Watch

Wrist-controlled slideshows are here, but do they make sense?

The second Microsoft iOS app to add support for Apple Watch was PowerPoint. It makes sense--Word and Excel don't seem like naturals for your wrist, unlike OneNote. With PowerPoint, Microsoft isn't suggesting that you'll give people tiny presentations on your wrist (though that would be really funny), but that you'll use the Apple Watch as a remote control.

It's a good idea. When I give presentations these days, I can never decide how I want to control the slides. I usually end up pressing buttons on my Mac keyboard for a couple of reasons: cables and reliability. I have all the video adapters for my MacBook Air, and none for my iPhone or iPad. I should probably remedy this--though I'm not thrilled about paying $49 for a Lightning to VGA adapter--but in the meantime, my Mac is the only device I own that I can reliably hook directly to a projector.

Then there's the reliability issue. The more devices you rely on to execute a presentation, the more opportunity there is for failure. If my Mac fails, my presentation fails, sure. But if I'm using an AppleTV to display my presentation on a screen via Apple's AirPlay technology, I'm now relying on the Mac, the AppleTV, and the reliability of the wireless connection between them.

This is the problem with using my iPhone or iPad as a remote for my presentations, too. You'd think that an iPhone would make a great remote for a presentation, and you'd be right! Using my phone as a remote allows me to roam the stage or conference room while advancing slides and reading presenter notes. But one hiccup in the wireless connection between the two devices, or the software running on either device, and the jig is up. That's a lot of opportunity for failure, and in my experience the failures happen often enough that I usually don't even try anymore.

With those caveats out of the way, though, the PowerPoint app for Apple Watch looks clever. Microsoft has designed the PowerPoint watch app with large Next button and a smaller Previous button, along with a running clock of the presentation. Force touching the screen brings up a menu with two options, to restart the presentation or end the presentation.

The app is built to control PowerPoint running on the iPhone, not on a Mac or PC. On the stability side, that's probably a win--in my two weeks with Apple Watch, I've found its connection to the iPhone to be rock solid. The two stay connected all the time, something I never experienced in the two years using a Pebble. But if you don't want to invest in that $49 adapter and start presenting from an iPhone, the Apple Watch app will be of little use to you.

If you want to control a Mac or PC presentation with an Apple Watch, well, that's trickier. There are a couple of iPhone apps in the App Store that act as PowerPoint remotes and offer an Apple Watch app as well. I haven't tested them, but I'm wary for the reasons I mentioned above--namely that you're now relying on your watch, your phone, a third-party app on your phone, a third-party app on your Mac or PC (required to receive the control signals from the iPhone app), and PowerPoint itself. The Apple Watch can't talk directly to a Mac or PC at this point, so the iPhone has to be involved. One failure in that chain means your presentation stops working. Scary.

Apple's Keynote presentation app--the one portion of Apple's iWork suite that I prefer to the equivalent Office app--has also been updated for Apple Watch. I think Apple did a better job with the watch app itself than Microsoft did, because by default the app offers only a single slide-advance button. When I'm presenting, the last thing I want to do is look down at my wrist to make sure I'm tapping the Next button instead of the Previous button. When you Force Touch on the Keynote app, you get an option to go back a slide or quit the presentation. Once you've used this feature to back up a slide, Apple assumes that you might want to do it again, and changes the interface to show both a Next and Previous button.

Keynote also allows you to control a Keynote presentation on the Mac via the Apple Watch--using the iPhone as an intermediary, of course. Again, all the usual caveats about relying on a chain of separate devices connected wirelessly apply here. Still, this is a direction I'd love to see Microsoft go in, namely integrating remote control from PowerPoint for iPhone (and by extension, Apple Watch) directly into the Mac and PC versions of PowerPoint.

One note of warning if you're considering the use of an Apple Watch as a presentation remote: For it to work effectively, you need to change one of the settings on the watch. In Settings: General: Activate on Wrist Raise, you need to change the Resume To option from Clock Face to Last Used App. If you don't do this, every time you try to tap on your watch, you'll need to double-tap the Digital Crown to return to your presentation remote. That's no good.

Will I use an Apple Watch to control my next presentation? I have to say I'm tempted, but I'm also pretty wary of adding more points of failure. Pressing the spacebar may not be as exciting as tapping the face of a tiny computer strapped to your wrist, but it's a classic for a reason: it works.

TAGS: Office 365
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