As a salesperson's tool, the iPad 2 is nearly without peer. Except in one area: displaying powerful, emotion-arousing PowerPoint presentations.
I'm not talking about that slide deck you hastily prepped for the last quarterly meeting, full of static blocks of Times New Roman mixed in with stolen-via-Google images.
No, today's better PowerPoints now incorporate features like animation, fancy layouts and beautiful graphics. These are the kind that can help a sales or marketing person successfully seduce buyers. And they are precisely the kinds of PowerPoints that can get mangled when you bring them to an iPad.
Microsoft Office doesn't run on the iPad (and no word from Redmond when it might). There are various other solutions, most of them from parties external to Microsoft and Apple. These approaches all work, but only to a degree.
One 'solution' is to convert the PowerPoint to a JPEG or PDF. These are viewable on the iPad's slide show viewer. The downside? You 'flatten' the files into single, static images. As a result, you lose all animations, videos, music and spoken voice-overs.
Another solution is to convert the PowerPoint to a video file. This has the advantage of retaining all animations and multimedia. There are two problems, though. Large file sizes, for one. The other, more subtle issue, is that while videos work great for single, uninterrupted viewing (think of a solitary user viewing it at his desk via the Web on-demand), they are inflexible for interactive scenarios, such as presentations by salespeople.
Still another solution is to use a viewing/editing program like Documents To Go, QuickOffice or Apple's Keynote on your iPad. Some let you retain the original PPT/PPTX file, though the ones that let you edit the PowerPoint itself on an iPad tend to convert files over to their own format (like Keynote).
If the original file format is retained, though, editing capabilities tend to be primitive. If the software converts the file format to something other than PPT, the risk remains that graphic formatting and animations will not run 100% perfectly.
Waltham, Mass.-based Brainshark has been around since 1999. The 200-person company's core product is a Web service called, naturally, BrainShark, that lets users turn static PowerPoint presentations into self-playing multimedia-rich videos.
SlideShark claims it displays rich PowerPoints on iPad better than its competitors.
BrainShark's prior app, called BrainShark Mobile, displayed these enhanced videos on iPad, iPhone as well as Android devices.
SlideShark is very different. Rather than turning PowerPoint presentations into videos, SlideShark tries to ensure that animated, medium graphically-rich PowerPoints display as well as possible.
This is something competitors haven't solved as well as SlideShark, asserts David Klein, mobile product director at BrainShark, even though he says it is in high demand: 70% of the hundreds of thousands of PowerPoints in Brainshark's existing repository rely on animations.
By solving this problem, salespeople will be able to use the iPad for interactive presentations. Enterprises will make more sales, and recoup more ROI from their iPads, says Klein.
These are all bold claims. I'd love to hear from readers who've tried SlideShark and other PowerPoint/iPad solutions on whether SlideShark is indeed better.
Future versions of SlideShark will likely support Android tablets and include more analytic tools for marketing and lead generation purposes, Klein said. But there are no plans to turn SlideShark into a full-fledged slide creator/editor, ala Keynote.
* In its FAQ, SlideShark says "While the App is optimized for PowerPoint, there are a few features that are not supported. These include: hyperlinks on slides, embedded videos or animated gifs, slide transitions, triggers, and 3rd party components. There are also some advanced animations that may not be supported."