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At the risk of offending my betters in Redmond, I am fairly certain that the punishment for leading a less-than-exemplary lifestyle here on earth is an afterlife full of an unending series of PowerPoint presentations. And if you want just a taste of the tortures that await the damned, trying viewing those PowerPoint presentations on an iPad using any one the suboptimal methods for converting your presentation into a PDF or video that can be displayed on your tablet. It’s enough to make a man turn to a life of prayerful contemplation—or at least to seek out a cleverly implemented iPad app like SlideShark.
Brainshark’s free PowerPoint viewing app may never soften my animus toward Microsoft’s presentation application, but it will do the trick quite nicely on those occasions when I need to view and share PowerPoint slides on the go. If you’re a business traveler whose road show hinges heavily on mobile presentations, SlideShark should certainly have a prime spot in your tool kit.
The app actually works in tandem with the SlideShark web service. Like the iPad app, sign up is free. You start out with 100MB of storage, but can pony up for more capacity: $49 a year gets you 500MB, while 1GB costs $98 annually. (Companies with multiple users may want to consider SlideShark’s team option, which offers 5GB total of storage for $149 per person per year.) File sizes vary, of course, but I uploaded a trio of moderately sized presentations to SlideShark and still only used up about 14 percent of my allotted 100MB. Users who plan on packing the service with PowerPoint slides should probably count on paying up for more space—or being aggressive about deleting presentations after they’ve served their purpose.
Getting PowerPoint presentations into SlideShark is a snap. You can upload presentations through the SlideShark website and download them to the app for offline use. You can also add presentations via your iPad’s Mail app by tapping and holding on the file and selecting Open in SlideShark from the ensuing pop-up menu. SlideShark also offers support for DropBox, GoodReader, and Box.
You won’t be able to do full-scale editing of presentations like you would in Apple’s Keynote app, but version 1.5 of SlideShark offers some modest editing capabilities. You can opt to hide selected slides with a tap, and the app also lets your re-order slides. Both features are ideal for tailoring your PowerPoint presentation to your upcoming audience on the fly.
Really, SlideShark’s strength lies in its ability to play PowerPoint presentations as a slideshow. The app gives you the ability to auto-play presentations, using a slider to set the amount of time before automatically moving to the next slide. You can also manually control your presentation with an intuitive series of swipes (leftward to advance, rightward to go back, and so forth). SlideShark doesn’t support every PowerPoint feature—according to the app’s FAQ, hyperlinks on slides, embedded videos or animated gifs, slide transitions, and triggers won’t work on the iPad—but playback is smooth enough to get your point across. (And I should emphasize that some animations, like bullet points revealing themselves, work just fine.) If you have an iPad 2 or third-generation model, even better: You can use Apple’s Digital AV Adapter or VGA Adapter to take advantage of mirroring and move your presentation to the big screen.
SlideShark offers some sharing features in which you can share presentations via email, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, but they proved less impressive in my testing. I shared a presentation with a colleague via email, which produced a URL linking to a Flash-based movie for desktop users. If you try accessing that through a browser without Flash installed as my colleague, you get an error message. Once he switched to Chrome with its built-in Flash support however, he found the slides slightly blurry and the Web-based controls cumbersome. Slideshow quality was a little better when he access the URL through his iPad’s browser—the website redirects you to a non-Flash version for mobile—though he found playback control much worse. The bottom line: SlideShark’s sharing features aren’t the reason to download this app.
That complaint aside, there’s plenty to like about SlideShark, even for sworn opponents of PowerPoint like myself. If you rely on PowerPoint to drive home your message, SlideShark allows you to leave your cumbersome laptop at home and turn your iPad into the business tool it was meant to be.
[Philip Michaels is the editor of Macworld.com.]