iPhone Presentation Clicker Review

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 , , , 0 comments

i-clickrA little while back on m62.net we reviewed presentation ‘clickers’ – those small devices that allow presenters to move away from their keyboard while they click through slides. A good clicker allows a presenter to advance forward or back, and to blank the screen. Some even have built-in countdown timers and laser pointers. There are, however, things that a presentation clicker can’t do, because they are, essentially, cheap and simple hardware.

Now, instead, imagine taking a rather more expensive and fully-featured piece of hardware – the iPhone 3G (or iPhone 3GS for this review), and creating an application that turns the entire thing into a high-end presentation clicker. That’s what one company, Senstic, has done. What difference does having a mini-computer and touch-sensitive screen make? Here, we review i-Clickr when used with a PC.

i-clickr-pausedi-Clickr is available from Apple’s App Store for £5.99. (If you know what it costs in US dollars, please leave a comment below.) Download and installation of the actual iPhone application is simple, but there is also an additional bit of software from Senstic that needs to be installed on any PC one intends to use i-Clickr with. Apple’s Bonjour software, which discovers devices on a local network, is also required. Not entirely surprisingly, there’s a tiny bit of work to do in allowing this PC software to get through one’s PC firewall.

Once everything is installed and the correct permissions are granted, the easiest way to get i-Clickr working is to connect PC and iPhone to the same network. (Documentation suggests that this must be a wireless network, but the PC can be connected using wires.) Then, start i-Clickr on the PC, and then on the iPhone. Select the computer to control with the iPhone (assuming everything is working), and then on that PC select a PowerPoint file to open. (Yes, this does involve going from PC to iPhone to PC and then finally to iPhone once the presentation is running, and yes, it is mildly annoying.) After a short pause, the presentation opens in showmode on the PC, and the iPhone turns into a fully-featured presentation remote.

Once the presentation is opened in showmode, it can’t be used in any other way. Closing either the presentation or iClickr will crash or close the other parts of this software ‘jigsaw’ – although as this is predictable and entirely avoidable, it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me.

i-Clickr allows slides to be advanced or reversed using either buttons or a simple finger-swipe across the screen. There are four simple screen views for use when presenting – view the final build of the current slide, view the final build of the next slide, view the speaker notes of the current slide, or view the speaker notes of the next slide. Each of these views has different uses; I particularly like the ability to see the next slide, and to be able to glance at speaker notes. Toggling between slide and note view is achieved with one click. Changing settings between viewing the current slide and the next slide is a couple of clicks away. Clearly, a typical presentation clicker can’t match this functionality.

A number of features are available from the menu screen. A single click from the menu will blank the presentation – whether this is done in black or in white (think “B” or “W” on a keyboard) can be selected in advance from options. Another option brings up a list of slides, and a single click will jump directly to a chosen slide. A trick that we feel is important for making PowerPoint presentations interactive, and one that can’t be obtained with many clickers.

i-clickr-annotationPerhaps making even greater use of the iPhone’s capabilities is the ability to annotate slides directly from the iPhone. Annotation mode is available by holding the iPhone horizontally, at which point four symbols (a tick, arrow, question mark, and star) appear at the right of the screen, as does a text icon. Touching a symbol sets the drawing mode, and then touching the image of the slide annotates the slide show. (So, for example, touch the question mark and then the slide on your iPhone to draw a question mark onto the slide show on your PC.) Annotations are not saved. Clicking the text icon and then the screen brings up the iPhone’s keyboard. A few minutes later and it’s possible to write a word, although probably not the one you intended (your mileage may vary). An ‘X’ icon selects delete, and annotations can be erased. For some reason, this icon appeared slightly off the bottom of the screen on my phone. Still accessible, but a minor bug.

Because rotating the iPhone launches annotation mode, it isn’t possible to read speaker notes in landscape view. It is possible to disable annotation mode, but with this selected, rotating the phone simply shows speaker notes at an angle. It would have been nice to be able to use the iPhone almost as a continually-updating index card, held subtly in the palm. In reality, holding the phone vertically and continually glancing down at the screen risks encouraging a presenter to avoid proper eye contact. Font size can be altered though, and if the iPhone is used as occasional reminder and not as script, the functionality can be truly helpful.

Some reviews on the App Store claimed that lag between iPhone and PC made iClickr unusable. I didn’t experience any lag at all – responsiveness was almost perfect. That doesn’t mean I would encourage presenters to throw away their clickers and attempt to buy iPhones on expenses just yet, though.

i-clickr-pres-viewWith practice, iClickr makes a great clicker. But connection between iPhone and PC isn’t entirely reliable. At home or in the office, getting iPhone and PC onto the same network isn’t that hard. But go to a client’s office where a shared Wi-Fi network isn’t available and things become harder.

In theory, it’s possible to set an ad-hoc wireless connection between laptop and iPhone. Senstic provide step-by-step instructions. After following the instructions, and a minute or so waiting for the connection to be established, I had everything set up the right way. But then, after launching i-Clickr on my iPhone, I wasn’t prompted to open a presentation on my PC. The infrastructure seemed to work, but I couldn’t launch a presentation. I also tried to connect using my PC’s built-in Bluetooth, and perhaps not surprisingly, I couldn’t get things working.

I’m sure that ad-hoc connections with i-Clickr can work. But I wouldn’t want to be following a six-part set of instructions, with some long pauses in the middle, once I was with prospects at their offices. i-Clickr is a great App, but it’s probably not time to retire the Kensington just yet.

A great tool for presenters with iPhones who often present from their own office. But keep a back-up, in case set-up doesn’t go smoothly.

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