Keynote Remote

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The Keynote Remote app for iOS has been available from the AppStore for a while now. It turns your iPhone or iPod Touch into a remote control for a Mac running Keynote, Apple's presentation program. With the recent release of Keynote 1.4 for iOS, you can now also use it to control the Keynote app running on an iOS device, i.e. an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. Since this is something I had long wished for, it's time to take a closer look at this little app and see how it works.

WiFi Required

Keynote Remote only works when both the iOS device it's running on and the device to be controlled (Mac or other iOS device) are on the same WLAN. So this probably rules out a few scenarios where you may want to use it, e.g. in some corporate environments. On the other hand, WiFi is common for most conference venues these days, so it should be usable at conferences.

Correction: The connection works both over WLAN and Bluetooth. See: Remote controlling Keynote for iOS via Bluetooth.

Before you can use Keynote Remote, you need to pair it with the device to be controlled. So fire up Keynote, then start Keynote Remote. On the Settings screen, you can set up a new pairing. It will then display a four-digit code that you need to type into Keynote. In Keynote for iOS, tap the wrench icon, select Settings, then Remotes. In Keynote for Mac OS X, select Settings from the Keynote menu, then Remotes.

You only need to do this once for each pair. Keynote Remote keeps a list of all devices it has been paired with, but you can only control one at a time.

Let's start

Once paired, you can start the presentation from Keynote Remote. Depending on the mode (more on that below), you'll either see the current slide and your notes or the current and the next slide.

The Options button lets you stop the presentation, jump to the first slide, or open the Settings (while the presentation will keep running). So you can switch the mode during the presentation without your audience noticing anything.

To change slides, you need to swipe. It works in both directions, so you can go forward or backwards through your presentation, one slide at a time. Tapping the side of the screen will not change a slide (unlike, say, in iBooks, where you can tap the side of a book to change the page). This may seem odd at first, but makes perfect sense - otherwise, it would be too easy to accidentally change the current slide.

Now, having to swipe to change the slide may seem a little awkward and even tiring for a longer presentation. But you don't actually need to do a full swipe. It's enough to drag the slide a little in the direction you want to go (forward or backwards) and then lift your finger. The next (or previous) slide will "snap" into view, both in Keynote Remote and, of course, on the big screen. This takes a little getting used to, but is actually quite convenient once you've practiced it a bit. Go ahead, try it out.

Which side is up?

Keynote Remote can be used in two modes:

  1. Portrait, i.e. upright, where you see the current slide and your presenter notes or
  2. Landscape, i.e. sideways, where you can see the current and the next slide.

Which option you choose is up to you. Do you need to refer to your notes a lot? Or do you have your content down pat and only need to make sure that you get the transitions right? Plus, as mentioned above, you can always change the mode during the presentation.

I'm usually in the second camp, i.e. given the option, I'd rather see the next slide so that I know where I'm heading. However, I found holding my iPod Touch sideways rather awkward. When holding it as shown, you are also tempted to use your other hand to do the swiping. Resist that urge! Your audience did not come to see you staring at that tiny screen. Keep in mind that a remote is only a tool that should help you give a more engaging presentation, since you now have the freedom to move around on the stage. Don't forfeit that by concentrating more on your remote than on your audience.

After some playing around, I came up with the perfect (for me, at least) way to hold the iPod: Grabbing it from above. When holding it in my left hand (I'm right-handed), I can let my hand dangle at my side and inconspicuously change slides with only a tiny movement of my thumb (see the drag-and-lift-finger method mentioned above). And if I need to know what the next slide is, I can raise my hand just a little so that I can glance at the screen.

Disclaimer: I've only been playing around with Keynote Remote in dry run scenarios now. After all, Keynote 1.4 of iOS - the reason for me to even take a closer look at this app - only came out a few days ago, so I didn't have a chance yet to use it for a real presentation. But I'm quite confident that it'll work for me this way.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Overall, Keynote Remote looks like it should work just fine as a remote control. That is, as long as you have access to a WLAN and can connect both your devices to it (I've been at conferences with limited WiFi capacity where it was hard enough to connect with one device, let alone two). (see correction above)

Connection issues aside, the other problem I can see is that an iPhone or iPod Touch is just so big as compared to other infrared or bluetooth remote controls. Unless you have really big hands, there's just no way to hide the thing and the fact that you're using a remote control. I've seen presentations where slides changed like magic - until you eventually caught a glimpse of the presenter's remote control (I've even seen a presentation where the presenter was obviously empty handed - he had the remote control in his trouser pocket and inconspicuously pressed the button through the cloth). Subtlety is not one of the strong sides of this setup. So here's hoping that Apple will eventually get around to allowing Keynote for iOS be controlled with a bluetooth device. But for now, I'm happy to be able to remote control it at all.