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Getting Started with Keynote for iCloud

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This post is part of a series called Presentation Fundamentals.
Preparing Your Mac for a Presentation
Deliver Engaging Presentations Like Steve Jobs

Web apps are typically seen simply as poor alternatives to full-featured desktop apps. Google Docs went a long way towards changing that image, but it still has enough rough edges that you could never forget it was a limited app running in your browser. There's dozens of great web apps out there, many of which we rely on, but when it comes to advanced document and presentation design, few of us would reach for a web app first.

Apple's doing its best to change that image with its new iCloud.com web apps. Its original mail and calendar web apps were beautiful copies of their native iOS counterparts, and with the release of the iWork for iCloud beta last year, Apple has taken a big step in improving the user experience of web apps and making them apps we'll all want to use.

In this tutorial, I will show you how to create a presentation using Keynote for iCloud. You'll get to try out some of the great features in Keynote for iCloud that makes it so much better than other presentation web apps, from beautiful templates and animations to simple collaboration.

Screencast

In this tutorial, I'm going to be focussing on Keynote for iCloud’s built-in themes and templates. Keynote for iCloud is a powerful application—surprisingly so for a web app—and you can do more than what I'm showing; however, as this tutorial is focussed on creating your first presentation, we'll keep things simple.

Introducing Keynote for iCloud

Keynote for iCloud is a nearly full-featured copy of Keynote that can run in any modern browser (officially, it's supported on recent versions of Safari and Chrome, as well as Internet Explorer 9 or newer). That means you can use Keynote on your PC, Chromebook, or even on a Mac that doesn't have Keynote  You can create presentations and present them straight from the browser, or open any presentation you've made in Keynote on your Mac or iPad that's synced to iCloud. And, you can share a presentation with other people and allow them to view and edit your presentation.

It's free to use, as long as you have an iCloud account—and that's free with any modern Apple device. You'll just need to signup for an iCloud account on your Mac, iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, if you don't already have one, then browse to iCloud.com in any browser and login with your Apple ID. There you'll find all of the iCloud web apps—including beta copies of all the iWork apps, along with the standard mail, calendar, and notes apps from the iPad.

Note: There's unfortunately no way to signup for an iCloud account if you don't own an Apple device. If you still want Keynote without buying a device, and don't own any Apple devices, you could perhaps make an iCloud account from a friend's device—or from the Apple store. I can't imagine Apple will mind; after all, you just might get hooked.

Crafting a New Presentation

Just tap the Keynote icon on the iCloud.com dashboard to get started with Keynote for iCloud. You'll first see the Keynote overview, with all the presentations you’ve saved in iCloud. Tap on any presentation to view and edit it online, or you can import presentations you made in Keynote on another device, or even in Powerpoint or other presentation apps, by dragging-and-dropping them to this page.

To create a new presentation, click the Create Presentation icon in the top left of your presentations list. That'll open the Keynote theme chooser, where you can pick between regular and widescreen presentation themes. Regular presentations work best when you are presenting using a projector. If you are presenting using a widescreen TV or directly from your computer, as is sometimes the case, then a wide presentation will work best.


Keynote for iCloud’s themes are exceptionally well-designed, so unlike in some presentation apps, you can feel safe using the built-in templates. Unless you have to a particular template you are required to use, I recommend you stick with one of Keynote for iCloud’s stock themes. I really like the Gradient and Showroom themes, and I use them all the time. If you want something more basic, just select the Black or White themes and then tweak them to fit your needs inside the app.

Select your template—I'm going to use Showroom for this demo—and click Choose in the top right (or just double-tap your theme choice). This opens the Keynote web app in a new window or tab, depending on your browser setting. Everything is now set up to begin working on your first presentation using Keynote for iCloud.

Your First Slide in Keynote: The Title Slide

So let's start making a presentation, so you'll get a feel for how Keynote for iCloud works. I am going to make a mock presentation and show you, step by step, how I do it. Feel free to follow along while making a presentation more suited to your own purposes—follow the same steps, but using the theme, text, images and more of your choice. By the time we're done, you'll have a finished presentation ready to use, and you'll be ready to use Keynote on your own next time.

The first thing you’ll see when you open Keynote for iCloud is the default title slide of your selected theme. To change the title of your presentation, double-click where it says to and enter what you want your title to be. You can also add a subtitle, or leave it blank. Any default fields you leave blank will not display when you present your presentation so there is no need to worry about deleting them.

While you are entering your title, the sidebar on the right will display the text options panel. You can change your text to one of the preset Paragraph Styles using the drop-down menu, or else control your text directly using the options in the sidebar. The various paragraph styles are all created from different combinations of these options, so you can create any style you want on your own. There's even all the fonts you'd expect in Keynote on a Mac—yes, Helvetica too—ready for your use even if you're on a PC.

Then, at the bottom, the Shrink text to fit checkbox at the bottom is worth leaving checked; it tells Keynote for iCloud to dynamically resize text to insure that it fits in the text box so you won’t get any clipping.

If you just click once on a text field, you can change how the text box is displayed and arranged. The Shape panel is where you set the Fill, Border, Shadow and Reflection of the text box. For my title, I am not adding any of these effects. The top of the Shape panel also allows you to select a paragraph style, and you can change some of the text settings in the Text panel. However, you do not get the same level of control as when you are editing the text directly rather than the text box. Finally, the Arrange panel is where you control the size and position of the text box.

And as a very nice extra, you never need to worry about saving your work, as Keynote for iCloud automatically does it for you. Just make sure you stay online while you're working.

Adding More Slides

The title's only the start of your presentation—but now you've got the basics of tweaking each slide as you want. But you might not have to tweak too much. Keynote for iCloud offers templates featuring different combinations of text and images that you can use to format your slides in one click. Whether you want a series of bullet points, a fullscreen image or something in between, Keynote for iCloud has a great template you can use.


I am going to add two more slides to my presentation: a quote slide and an image and bullet points slide. To add a slide, click on the large plus icon in the bottom left corner of the screen. Select the template that best suits the information you are going to display. I am selecting the quote slide, but you can select any other text slide you want.


The options for editing the slide are identical to those you get when you edited your title slide. Double-click on the empty text box and add the information you want to display. When you are done, click on the add new slide button again. This time, I am going to add a slide displaying both bullet points and an image.

Adding images is really easy in Keynote for iCloud. Open your file browser—Finder on a Mac, or Windows Explorer on a PC—and navigate to the image you want to use, and drag and drop that image onto the placeholder image in Keynote for iCloud. It will be uploaded and resized to that shape automatically. You can also use the Image option from the top menu bar to navigate to and select an image for inclusion in your presentation. To edit how the image is displayed, double-click on it. This places control handles around the image so you can change the size of the image box and how the image is cropped within it. It also brings the image options panel up in the right sidebar.

To change the how the image is cropped within the image box, you can use the control handles or the slider to resize the image. To use the control handles, make sure the image icon is selected in the image editing tool bar and that the control handles are on the outside of the full image rather than the image box. You can resize the image by dragging from any handle.

When you are resizing using the control handles, Keynote for iCloud will dynamically provide you with guides to allow you to align the image to other objects or the edges and centre of your slides. You can also use the slider to zoom the image in or out. To change the size of the image box, select the crop icon from the image editing bar. Then use the control handles to resize the image box.

The Image options panel in the right sidebar lets you add a Border, Shadow or Reflection to the image box. Selecting any one of them brings up additional effect specific options. There are also six presets that use combinations of those effects. For this tutorial, I am going to apply the fifth preset—a drop shadow—to my image. While I could recreate the effect using the Shadow options, Keynote for iCloud’s defaults do a great job of creating the effect I want in one-click.

Deleting and Duplicating Slides

If you are creating a long presentation that uses the same style of slide multiple times, it's easier to get the look you want on one slide and then duplicate that slide rather than recreating it every time. And, of course, you may also occasionally need to delete a slide. To do either of these things, right-click on the slide you want to duplicate or delete in the left sidebar and select the appropriate option. You'll find similar right-click options if you click on any element in a slide, where you can delete or move the object backwards or forwards.

Adding Animated Transitions

Keynote for iCloud allows you to use the same great animations you get in Keynote on other devices. The smoothness and quality of these animations is one of the things that separates Keynote for iCloud from other web apps—and Keynote itself from any other presentation app. But then, you don't want to overdo it, so I prefer subtle animations in presentations rather than some of the more dramatic ones.

Remember: The transition you assign to a slide is used when you move on from that slide. If, for example, you want to zoom in on a big reveal, you need to apply the transition to the preceding slide.

Adding slide transitions is simple, since the Slide Transition options display in the right sidebar when no objects on your slide are selected. If you have something selected, click anywhere on the slide that does not have an object to select to deselect everything—or just click on the side you want to add a transition to in the left column.

Now, just click on the Effect drop-down menu and choose one of the transitions from the list. My personal favorite is Reveal, a rather subtle effect, but if you want something more dramatic, try the Door or Cube effects, and you'll be reminded again that Keynote is no ordinary web app. Once you have selected an animation, the sidebar will display the animation specific options. The two most common options are Direction and Duration, so you can tweak exactly how the effect works on your slide.

You can also use the Advance Slide options to automatically advance the presentation on a timer. To do so, choose Automatically from the drop-down menu and set the Delay to how long you want the slide to display for. If you want to control the advancement of the presentation yourself, leave it to the default setting, On Click.

Collaborating on a Presentation

One of the best features of Keynote for iCloud is the option to allow other people to edit your presentations. Rather than emailing files back and forth or leaving one person with all the work, Keynote for iCloud’s collaboration options let everyone contribute easily.

To share a presentation with someone, click on the Share option in the top menu bar. A pop up will appear with the Presentation Link. To let someone else edit your presentation, send them this link. You can send the link to as many people as you need to, and you can all edit it together. If you want a bit more security, you can add a password. To do so click Add Password and enter one of your choice—and then be sure to send it along with the presentation link!

Presenting Your Presentation

The whole point of creating a presentation is to present it! Keynote for iCloud allows you to do it straight from any browser—which is a great option, even if you created your presentation in Keynote on your Mac or iPad. Just save your presentation to iCloud, and open it on any computer when you're ready to present, and it'll all work just like you'd expect.

To start the full-screen presentation, click on Play in the top menu bar. You can advance and move back slides using your keyboard's right arrow and left arrow, respectively, or simply click with your mouse or trackpad to advance to the next slide. The presentation will automatically exit when you reach the end—if you'd rather it switch to a black screen so everyone watching your presentation won't see your desktop, you'll need to add a blank slide of your own as your last slide. And, of course, if you want to exit before reaching the end of the presentation, hit the Escape key. It'll all work just like you'd expect with any other presentations app.

Conclusion

Keynote for iCloud is stunning for a web app. It is so fast and easy to use that you forget it is running in a browser. You can access it from anywhere, from almost any computer, use all of Keynote's features for free, and even let others collaborate with you on your presentations. It's really great.

But, there's still a few tradeoffs. While creating a presentation in Keynote for iCloud is great, presenting one leaves some things to be desired. There's no options to add audio or video to your presentations, and the formatting tools are somewhat more limited than the Mac version. Then, it's undeniably useful to be able to present from a browser; however, you lose all but the most basic of presentation controls. You cannot see the next slide on a second screen, black or white out the screen, or display notes while you present.

It's still great, and is easily the nicest online presentations app, but if any of those features are crucial for your use, you might need to stick with the traditional Keynote for Mac. But if you can live with the features it has, you'll find it to be a really nice presentations app for 99% of what most presentations really need. Following the steps in this tutorial, you should be able to make a polished presentation in minutes right from any browser, and then present it from any computer, complete with the same polished transitions you'd expect from Keynote. That's nice.

If you use Keynote for iCloud in your work and love it, or find that you're unable to rely on Keynote because it doesn't have enough features, we'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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