iA Presenter Review

Many of you who are interested in Markdown writing have heard of or used iA Writer, a beautiful writing software, but perhaps have not paid much attention to its official website, iA.net.

For a long time, there was only one sentence from iA, a company that was born in 2005, about itself, starting with the words: We Architect Information.

Not only that, but almost everything on the site is black on white, as if color is superfluous to their product – I’ve never seen another software company as confident as iA. iA Writer is also built around this statement: the goal is to help you write, and write better, and the approach iA Writer is also built around this statement: the goal is to help you write and write better, and the approach emphasizes attention and no distractions.

But last week, iA updated their website, and underneath iA Writer there’s a splash of color: their new iA Presenter – a Markdown-based presentation slideshow creation tool.

The introduction page of iA Presenter continues the text-based family style and conveys the design concept very well. The software has been in beta since a few months ago and is still in the invitation phase. A few days ago, I received an email from iA informing me that the waiting list had been completed, along with a download link and sample documentation.

While the features of iA Presenter don’t seem particularly new just from the feature description – there are already a number of similar programs on the market (see this more complete list). But after a few days of experience with it, I would like to continue using it as an output tool and highly recommend trying it out.

iA Presenter’s Interface and Features

Interface Layout
When you open iA Presenter, you can clearly see that its interface consists of three parts, center-left and right, somewhat similar to Keynote.

On the left are thumbnails that show the effect produced by the edited content in real time.

In the middle is the main workspace for writing the story you want to tell. Here, slides can be “written” in the familiar Markdown format. But the main special features are

The split line (—) in Markdown syntax corresponds to a new slide.
The slide does not show all the text we have written, but only the headings starting with #. Instead, the body paragraphs are for your own reference when organizing your thoughts or presentation. This reflects iA Presenter’s “less is more” design philosophy: less is what’s on the slide and more is the story we tell out of our mouths.

If you must put longer text on the slide, you can use the Tab key to create an indent at the beginning of the corresponding paragraph to make the text jump off the “screen”.
On the right is the inspector, which is divided into three sections, Text, Visual, and Design, each of which is described below.

Text Options
The interface combines formatting options and syntax hints, with each line serving as both a function button and a “cheat sheet” listing the corresponding Markdown syntax. I was pleasantly surprised by the full range of formatting support in iA Presenter, including text highlighting, math formulas, tables, and more.

Visual Options
This screen is the library of materials in the slideshow. iA Presenter supports inserting local pictures and videos by dragging and dropping them, and these materials will be displayed in the list here. You can also pre-drag files that you may use into the library first, and then insert them in one place after you finish writing your script. (If you have used iA Writer, then you will not be unfamiliar with this operation logic.)

The media files in the main text will show a drop-down arrow to the right of the path, and you can change the padding and alignment of the image after clicking it.

For videos, in addition to MP4, M4V and MOV formats, you can also insert online videos such as YouTube by copying and pasting the video link. However, the current version does not support automatic or looped video playback (although there is a switch to enable automatic video playback in the settings), and the stability of video playback in the demo needs to be improved.

Design Options
This is where iA’s strength lies. There are ten themes built into the software, all named after cities around the world and each with a distinctive style. Each theme is available for both computer and mobile screen sizes (an iOS version will be added “at some point in the future”, but that’s probably a long way off), and supports both light and dark modes.

After selecting a theme, you can adjust the font, color, header and footer, logo and other specific formatting on top of its preset. Particularly interesting is that some themes offer the option of “dynamic” background color, which can automatically generate a gradient background color for all pages, lively and integral, saving a lot of time to set one by one.

However, no further themes are officially available for download at this time. If you are skilled, you can create your own theme with CSS through the documentation in the help menu.

Presenting with iA Presenter
iA Presenter also has its own ideas when it comes to presentation features.

First, in the bottom right corner of the content editing page, where many writing software use to display word count statistics, there is a time marker that roughly estimates the presentation time based on the word count. This way, while writing the narrative, you can also control and manage the presentation time at any time.

In addition, if you hover over each slide page, you can also see the estimated time to finish speaking the page.

The benefit of a clear display of time is to build awareness of time, and in speech practice after writing the text, you can refer to the estimated time to stabilize your speech speed and improve your speaking ability and effectiveness. In my test, I was able to read the text at about the speed of high school English listening, even slightly faster than the estimated time by about 2 seconds, reflecting a tendency to encourage a well-spoken, eloquent speech. Unfortunately, the time estimation is currently only available in English, and we hope to add support for other languages in the future.

The iA Presenter is divided into two windows: one for presenting the slides to the audience, and the other for reading the script to yourself.

Here, those familiar with iA Writer or Ulysses should be able to see a very familiar design: “Paragraph Focus”. iA Presenter follows this layout of highlighting the current paragraph, but the purpose is to implement the teleprompter function. In presentation mode, the left and right arrows switch pages, while the up and down arrows switch paragraphs on the same page.

This focus mode is particularly suitable for face-to-face presentations, allowing you to quickly locate what you want to say next without delaying the use of eye contact and other presentation techniques.

iA Presenter also continues the tradition of emphasizing software help. Just as iA Writer’s help page has a “How to Write” section, iA Prensenter’s help currently includes an article called “How Can We Make Presentations Better?

Comparison with other slide tools

Since it is a slideshow tool, it is inevitable to compare it with the traditional PowerPoint. The iA team has also discussed this, and I summarize it with my own understanding as follows.

It’s hard to start: When creating a PowerPoint document, we often don’t know what to say, and our minds are constantly questioning ourselves. And PowerPoint’s vast array of options provides an excuse for procrastination. Instead, iA Presenter leaves the most room for us to produce a story.

Focused distraction: PowerPoint’s software design encourages moving and editing various elements. While creative and beautiful work can be created in the hands of professionals, editing is not as efficient for the main group of people using PowerPoint, but rather takes a lot of time to put elements together; this many times does not result in a clear presentation, but rather adds to the confusion. In contrast, iA Presenter’s Markdown syntax and automatic layout allow presenters to focus on the content and avoid disrupting their thinking and control of the presentation during the editing process.

Boring: Many PowerPoint documents are filled with text and bullets that only gradually bore the audience. Instead, iA Presenter encourages brevity on slides and reduces boredom with visual cues such as gradient color backgrounds to keep the audience’s attention.

You might say, “I can write my presentation and then design it in PowerPoint.

True, but if writing and designing are supposed to be two sides of the same slide production, why not do them together? That’s where the efficiency of iA Presenter comes in: after I write my script, I have my presentation; instead of spending time designing animations and layouts, I spend the rest of my time preparing my presentation and trying to tell the story I want to tell.

In addition, if you’ve ever worried, as I have, that the fixed layout of your slides won’t fit the size of the presentation venue’s projection equipment, iA Presenter’s responsive design and automated layout can come in handy.

According to the introduction, iA Presenter adds some intelligent algorithms to automatically adjust the scale size of slides according to the aspect ratio of the presentation device; the automatic layout also eliminates the need to tangle with the layout of graphics and text within a page. As the size changes, the area where the image is displayed (in cover mode) and the text size will also change. This feature reminds me of Bruce Lee’s philosophy of “Be Water” – adapting to different device sizes like water adapts to different containers.

As mentioned at the beginning, creating slideshows from Markdown is not a new thing, and there are already a large number of similar tools on the market, perhaps the best known of which is Deckset (priced at $35 for a one-time fee). I haven’t used Deckset in depth, so I can’t make an in-depth comparison here. However, from the existing impressions, it mainly provides the basic function of displaying Markdown as a slide layout, but does not reach the level of sophistication of iA Presenter in terms of editing experience and design, and the screening mode does not provide specialized optimization such as teleprompter. Therefore, it may meet the needs of some groups, but this does not affect the unique value that iA Presenter reflects as a latecomer.

Who is iA Presenter for? In my opinion, this includes presenters who want to enhance their presentations and get their audience to pay attention to the story you are telling, people who want to keep their slides focused on content, and people who are pressed for time and want to save time on slideshow production.

If you can’t install or update to this new version, you can use the best Mac app uninstaller from AppUninstaller.com’s App Uninstaller.

In short, if your slides serve primarily content and story, iA Presenter is worth a try.

From Writer to Presenter, iA’s two products give me a sense of coherence: you’ve written your story in Writer, want to tell it? Just as Presenter’s launch added a bright color to iA’s black and white website, Presenter’s usage scenario for Writer is like a lonely artist finally finding an audience that appreciates him, from being alone to coming out of his cave.

By learning the logic of using iA Presenter, I also re-examined the literal meaning of those traditional slide software: PowerPoint, power point, powerful point; Keynote, key note, main idea. Yes, looking back at my previous presentations, since I learned some PowerPoint “tricks”, I always seemed to think about what animations to use here, how to layout the graphics, and so on, while precisely neglecting the core of the presentation: the story.

In contrast, iA Presenter doesn’t have a lot of features, but it reminds users to get back to the story, to value it, and to make it its sole mission. Rather than being something to be feared and specifically designed, presentations can be as natural and even exciting as sharing a story. Focusing on the story, and making it one with us, is the secret to making a good presentation.

According to the official explanation, iA refers to information architecture; but after getting to know Presenter, it means ignite attention in my mind.

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