If you've ever used Apple's Keynote to create a presentation, you won't need to read a recommendation for it. For years, it's been the gold standard of presentation apps for Mac users, and it still is. Its success is partly attributable to tight integration with the Mac ecosystem, with easy access to iTunes tracks, iPhoto images, and videos. Keynote isn't the only high-scoring presentation app, however. The latest version of Microsoft PowerPoint provides strong competition, and if you already have PowerPoint, you needn't suffer from Keynote envy. They're both Editors' Choices. You can't go wrong with either, although Keynote has the edge on the Mac.
Apple Keynote is affordable because for most Mac users, it comes included with the purchase of a laptop or desktop computer (available to anyone who bought a new Mac on or after October 1, 2013). If it's not installed on your machine, you can get it from the App Store at no cost. Mac users with older devices can buy Keynote for a low one-time fee of $19.99.
Note that there is no longer a single suite of productivity apps called iWork, which is what Apple used to call its Microsoft Office competitor. You can, however, buy all the software for one fee, in the form of what Apple calls Bundle for iWork, which includes Keynote, word processing app Pages and spreadsheet app Numbers, for a total of just $19.99. That's one-third what you'd pay for them separately.
Additionally, there's a version of Keynote on iCloud.com that's free to use by anyone who has an iCloud account and an Internet connection.
PowerPoint, perhaps the biggest competitor in the presentation space, costs $69.99 per year as one component of a Personal subscription to Microsoft Office. For that price, you get much more than just PowerPoint, though. You also get Word, Excel, Outlook, Publisher, and Access. That's six apps for one price, or a little less than $12 per app per year. If you don't use all those apps, however, and only need PowerPoint, then you're still paying $70 per year just for PowerPoint. If you want to buy the software outright, you can also get PowerPoint 2016 for Mac for a one-time fee of $109.99.
Prezi, which is an Editors' Choice for being a non-traditional presentation app, costs more than either Keynote or PowerPoint: $59.04 per year (yes, it's an odd price) for its Enjoy plan, $159 per year for Prezi Pro (which adds unlimited storage, access to presentations on any device, offline access, premium support, and image-editing tools), and $240 per year for Pro Plus (which adds advanced training). Monthly plans run $10, $20, and $30, respectively. Given that Keynote costs either nothing or a one-time fee of $19.99, that $30 monthly fee for Prezi Pro Plus might seem hard to swallow.
PowToon is another unusual presentation app. It helps you create animations instead of typical slideshow presentations, but it comes at a high price as well. A PowToon Pro account costs $228 per year or a very steep monthly price of $89. A Business plan starts at $708 per year or $197 per month for one user; organizations looking to add multiple seats can contact PowToon for a price quote. There is a free version of PowToon, but any presentations you make are watermarked with a logo and contain an advertisement for PowToon at the end. That's reason enough not to use the free version for anything other than getting a basic feel for it.
If you want a truly free presentation tool that works on both Mac and Windows, Google Slides is your best bet. Its collaboration features are stronger than Keynote's (which are still in beta). Google Slides has an option for presenters to generate on demand a URL at which audience members can submit questions while watching a presentation. The presenter gets the questions in real time. It's one of the more interactive features we've seen in any presentation app.
If you've used Apple Pages or Numbers, Keynote will seem instantly familiar. The app's major convenience is its three-panel interface, with a thumbnail panel at the left, large editing panel in the middle, and formatting options at the right. As in the other former iWorks apps, the formatting panel works like a spacious version of an old-style inspector window. You use a toolbar to switch the panel among controls over layout, animations, and the whole presentation. The panel itself displays a different set of controls depending on the kind of visual element you've selected in the editing window. Easy-to-use orange guidelines appear when you resize or move visual elements, complete with pop-up displays of width and height in pixels.
Apple's transitions include all the dazzling effects you expect and more. For example, popping flashbulbs can type your text, and the genuinely impressive Magic Move gives the illusion of one text element (text or picture) moving between one slide and another as the next slide appears. Keynote makes it easy to create transitions for some or all the rows, columns, and cells in a table, a feat that's almost impossible in PowerPoint. Fancy transitions inevitably tempt you to use too much of a good thing, however, and Keynote's transitions are more tempting than most.
Keynote's built-in graphic tools include Instant Alpha, which lets you click a color to make it transparent, easily-drawn masks, and sliders that let you choose a Poster Frame thumbnail for a video. You can optimize inserted videos for iOS (in 720p format) or leave them in their original form for macOS, and you can set a preference that automatically optimizes all inserted videos for iOS.
PowerPoint, on the other hand, offers Mac users the ability to adjust brightness and contrast in videos inside PowerPoint itself, while Keynote users will have to open iMovie or another video editor to make the same adjustments. PowerPoint also includes a unique and innovative interface for moving slide elements backward or forward by displaying them in a three-dimensional side view in which it's easy to select and manipulate individual elements.
Everything that you can create in Numbers or Pages can also go into a Keynote presentation. You can even insert the same unique interactive charts available in Numbers, which let you drag a slider along one axis while the changing data is displayed in animated form in the chart. The only difference is that Keynote displays an interactive chart as an animation—showing how the chart changes when you drag the slider along its axis—rather than letting you actually drag the slider.
Not long ago, you typically showed your presentations in a conference room with a projector. Today, you may need to show it on the Web. Both Keynote and PowerPoint can export presentations as video files: QuickTime for Keynote, but the more versatile MP4 for PowerPoint. Keynote can also automatically upload movie versions of its presentations to Facebook, Flickr, Vimeo, and YouTube, or it can upload your presentation to iCloud and instantly create a link that anyone can use to view it.
Keynote has some collaboration capabilities, though they are currently in beta. You can share your presentation with others via Messages, Mail, AirDrop, and other services. You can also simply copy and paste a link to the presentation using whatever app you choose. All the collaborators need iCloud accounts to see and edit the presentation. You can control whether the collaborators can view or edit the presentation, although it's not person-by-person control. Either everyone can edit your presentation or no one can. We're interested to see how these beta features develop.
If you need a tool with fully baked support for collaboration, Google Slides and Prezi are your best choices. In Google Slides, collaborating works the same way it does for any other Google Docs or G Suite app that supports it. When you share a file with others, everyone can see and edit the same file simultaneously. A color-coded cursor appears on screen, showing you exactly who is making the changes as they occur. Slides also offers commenting tools and a chat box to support discussion. The ease of collaborating in Google Slides is one of the service's biggest perks. You don't have to worry about recipients owning a copy of the software or anything other than whether they have a Google account and an Internet connection.
Prezi works similarly. As with Google Slides, you can see who else is in the file and edit the material together in real time. Up to 10 people can collaborate at once, and all you need are their email addresses to invite them.
PowerPoint has some collaboration features, but they're clunkier to use. When you want to collaborate on a file, you first have to save the slideshow to the cloud (such as into your OneDrive or SharePoint space) and then invite people. Your collaborators have to be using PowerPoint 2010 or later, or the latest release of PowerPoint Online for it to work.
PowToon has very limited collaboration capabilities compared with other presentation apps, and what it does offer is only in beta at the moment. Both you and a single collaborator need Business-grade accounts to use it, and collaboration here simply means the ability to make a copy of your presentation and send it to another user so that it shows up in his or her list of videos upon logging into the app. The other person can then work on the file and send it back to you, again by making a copy of the file that will show up in your list of presentations when you log into PowToon. It's a far cry from the real-time collaboration and saved history of changes you get with Prezi and Google Slides.
Keynote doesn't do everything PowerPoint can, but it does more of what you need to create elegant and eye-catching presentations, thanks to top-notch transitions, effects, and animations. It's tightly integrated with macOS and its associated apps and has an excellent, highly usable interface. It won't fundamentally change the way you think about presenting data—for that, try Prezi. Nor is it a killer collaboration tool like Google Slides, though its beta features look promising. PowerPoint is the other clear frontrunner for presentation software, and if you're accustomed to it, you'll probably want to stick with it whether you use a Windows or Mac computer. But Keynote is the clear first choice for Mac users, and the fact that it comes free with every new Mac makes it an even more obvious Editors' Choice for presentation apps on the Mac.