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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Idea Flight, an iPad App for Presentations

In the age of the iPad, why should we rely on the same old slideshows? We shouldn’t.

  • September 1, 2011

Do you give a lot of PowerPoint presentations? Do you have trouble keeping people’s attention? And if you hand out paper copies or distribute digital copies of the presentation beforehand, do you sometimes note that your audience isn’t always on the same page as you, flipping ahead or lingering behind instead?

Condé Nast–that’s right, the magazine publishing company–recently released a lovely iPad app called Idea Flight that solves these problems. The app debuted in June, was featured at the New York Tech Meetup earlier this month, and just came out in an updated version and in an enterprise version for educators.

How does it work? It takes the metaphor of aviation, with one pilot and a series of passengers. (Okay, it might be a bit hokey to imagine a meeting as a “flight through ideas,” but the metaphor works, as you’ll see.) The pilot boots up her presentation on her iPad; any PDF file is fair game. Up to 15 passengers–the presentation’s audience–check in on their own iPads via WiFi or Bluetooth. Now the pilot steers the presentation. She swipes over to the next slide, and the action is replicated automatically on the passengers’ screens. She zooms in, and their iPads zoom in as well. They’re along for the ride. As one of the developers said at the Tech Meetup: “It literally keeps everyone on the same page.”

Hang on, though. Isn’t this all a bit dictatorial? Shouldn’t the passengers have some say in what slide they get to look at? What if they have a really good idea related to a slide they saw a few moments ago? IdeaFlight accounts for this. The pilot can enable an “unlocked” mode, during which the passengers can flip from slide to slide and explore as they wish–or “move about the content,” as Idea Flight says in its FAQ, in a phrase rather reminiscent of the one real pilots say when they turn off the “fasten seatbelt” light. It’s surprising how thoroughly the metaphor works, actually; if the pilot wants to password protect the presentation, she can set a “boarding passcode.” When the app first launched, developer Juliana Stock wrote a blog post about being “less than 48 hours our of the gate.” (Presumably if anyone were to hack the app, it would be called a hijacking.)

This video should give you a better sense.

There are a few other cool features to the app; you can check in via LinkedIn, saving paper on business cards, too. There’s a new notes feature, should you want to take down some in-app jottings during the presentation. While the app is free to download, and free for passengers; pilots have to make a $7.99 in-app purchase. (Not bad for a pilot’s license, right?)

Kudos to Condé Nast for incubating this app in-house. Idea Flight has the elegance of an app we traditionally find in scrappy but dedicated startups–not in the halls of old media powerhouses (even one that, granted, has been an iPad early adopter). Idea Flight is also a living testimony that dynamic ideas and a startup culture can flourish even in large organizations. “We have more ideas churning, so don’t be surprised if the next one is a complete departure,” Stock tells me, in what may or may not have been an aviation pun.

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