Smartphones have freed us from lugging computers around in order to check e-mail or the Web. But to give a business presentation, you've still got to pack a laptop, right?
"It's no longer a given that you'll hard-wire a laptop to a projector and run your PowerPoint deck from there," says Carmi Levy, an independent technology analyst in London, Ont., "and that opens up a whole lot of opportunity. And risk."
Presenting from mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets means carrying less gear, not to mention lending a certain tech-guru air to one's presentations. But it involves less familiar technology than the old laptop-and-projector model, and several potential pitfalls.
It's usually easy to connect a laptop to whatever projector is provided. That can work with a smartphone too, but not all mobile devices make it easy. The unknown, Mr. Levy says, is compatibility. "Sometimes," he says, "the tried and true really is the way to go."
Apple Inc. offers both composite video – which works with almost all projectors – and component video output cables for iPhones and iPads. The iPhone 4 and iPad can also output High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), which many projectors support, via Apple's Digital AV Adapter. Many Android and Windows Phone phones have HDMI connectors.
Epson Canada Ltd.'s iProjection smartphone app uses a WiFi wireless network connection to hook up Apple and Android mobiles with any Epson projector attached to a network with WiFi access. The Apple version can display PowerPoint and other Microsoft Office files, PDF files, Apple's Keynote presentation software files and popular graphics formats. The Android version currently only handles PDF files and the popular JPG and PNG graphics formats, says Brian Savarese, product manager at Epson in Long Beach, Calif.
Or you can bring your own projector. This way, the presenter controls all the technology rather than relying on a mobile device working with an unfamiliar projector.
Optoma Technology, Inc., of Fremont, Calif., has a line of pico-projectors, ranging from the 159-gram PK201 that fits in the palm of a hand to the only slightly bigger PK320, which is heavier at 235 grams but also delivers a much brighter image (100 lumens with an AC adapter or high-power battery pack, versus the PK201's 20 lumens).
All the Optoma projectors have a choice of inputs for connecting to smartphones and other devices, says Felix Pimental, product manager. They also have slots for Micro SD memory cards – the same ones found in many digital cameras – so you could eliminate the phone, store your presentation on the SD card and rely entirely on the projector. Some Optoma projectors have built-in viewer software that displays PowerPoint and other Microsoft Office document formats as well as Adobe PDF files.
Other makers of pico projectors include Asustek Computer Inc., Acer Inc. and Aiptek International Inc. Prices range from around $200 to about $400.
These projectors aren't designed for large auditoriums, Mr. Pimental admits, but for a group of up to 15 people in a conference room, or as an alternative to a handful of people crowded around a laptop screen.
"They're maturing very rapidly," Mr. Levy says, "which makes them an inexpensive and viable alternative for the road warrior who gives a lot of presentations to small groups."
For sheer simplicity and compactness, nothing would beat a phone with its own projector built in. They exist – Samsung Group's Galaxy Beam has a built-in projector, and LG Electronics' eXpo phone has an optional clip-on projector. Neither is currently available in Canada.
One further challenge of presenting from a mobile device is displaying the popular PowerPoint file format. As you might expect of a Microsoft product, Windows Phone has a built-in PowerPoint viewer. Other smartphone operating systems don't. But apps such as Documents to Go and QuickOffice Pro, designed for displaying Office files on mobile devices, allow iPhones and Android devices to display PowerPoint presentations.
However, Mr. Levy warns, translating files can lead to problems such as incorrect fonts and mangled spacing. Fancier effects such as animation may not work.
And displaying a presentation from your phone is one thing, but editing it on the phone is another. If you're the kind of presenter who tweaks slides minutes before going on, Mr. Levy advises, smartphone presentations aren't for you.
You could store the presentation in the cloud, using a file storage service lsuch as Dropbox. This makes it accessible from any device. Yet good Internet connections still aren't a given in presentation rooms, Mr. Levy warns, so while a backup copy in the cloud is good, it's best to present from a local file.
None of these issues are insurmountable, but anyone planning to present with a phone should address them in advance, and that should include a dry run on location.
"If it allows you to leave your laptop at home it's a good thing," says Mr. Levy, but "it's relatively new and not all the bugs have been worked out of it."
Still, he says, if you're giving a relatively simple presentation without much animation or video, know the technology in the room where you'll be presenting and don't need to make last-minute changes – or if you can use a pico-projector to present to a small group – presenting from your phone could make sense. Your back, at least, will thank you.