I recently saw a sample presentation from a PowerPoint design company called INSCALE. The presentation showed off the power of a new feature introduced in PowerPoint 2016 and available only to users with an Office 365 subscription. The feature is known as "Morph Transitions" and it attempts to interpolate animated movement from elements as they look on one slide to how they look on the following slide. Follow the link in that first sentence above to watch the example. Or for a more complete explanation and example, visit the official Microsoft page.
If the new feature catches on, it should make a lot of web conferencing companies nervous. Let me explain why.
There are several ways a web conferencing product may choose to display slide content. If you aren't familiar with differences between screen sharing, static image conversion, and full-motion conversion you should read a backgrounder I wrote on the subject.
Screen sharing is the easiest way for web conferencing providers to wash their hands of responsibility. "You run the slide show on your computer and we'll show attendees whatever you see." This lets them bypass issues of compatibility with products such as Keynote or Prezi. It also removes the need to keep chasing new features in PowerPoint. Cisco WebEx has gone this route. As I reported earlier this year, the WebEx slide conversion algorithm simply stopped being developed and now throws away support for animations and transitions after PowerPoint 2010. This means different users see different behaviors based on which version of PowerPoint happens to be installed on their computer. WebEx recommends just using screen share to show animated presentations.
Animations and slide transitions have always been problematic in web conferencing. If your product uses screen sharing, transmitting and redrawing pixels fast enough to simulate smooth motion for everyone can be almost impossible. Attendees may see visual content jump and jerk rather than smoothly update as elements move from point to point. If your conferencing product uses slide upload and conversion, the conversion algorithms have to support new features as they are added to PowerPoint (I still don't know of any web conferencing products that can upload and convert Keynote or Prezi).
Which brings us back to the new Morph Transition in PowerPoint. The conversion-based web conferencing products now have a new feature to support. I know several companies that rely on a product called iSpring to convert slides to Flash content that can be displayed in the online session. I just tried out the new Morph feature in my free version of iSpring and it failed to convert the new Morph Transition effects. Which didn't surprise me, but points to a need for a product update that will then have to be integrated, tested, and rolled out in the web conferencing products.
Screen share products don't have to worry about this from a technical standpoint. They still show whatever appears on the desktop. But making smooth animation movements has traditionally been difficult and time consuming for the average PowerPoint user, so showing smooth animations has not had to be a high priority for the conferencing vendors. If the new Morph feature makes it easy and convenient for users to add these kinds of effects, there is going to be higher demand for quality reproduction of those effects in webinars and webcasts.
The underlying issue is not a new one. Presentation products have been able to show animated effects since before web conferencing was developed. But we may be reaching a new tipping point on user incorporation of animated content. Web conferencing vendors need to step up the performance of their products to accommodate more content sources and content sophistication while acknowledging the reality of mobile connections that are slower and less stable than office broadband networks. I've said it before, and I'll say it again… I'm glad I'm not a webinar software vendor!