PowerPointing Blues


Yeah, I confess: I'm a PowerPoint user. Even if I wholeheartedly agree with Edward R. Tufte's Manifest on it, PowerPoint and Visio are around 50% of my work output. I do, however, take great pains to squeeze in more content and semantics than your run-of-the-mill bullet pitcher, and believe the sweet spot for an effective (and informative) presentation is somewhere Visio and Flash.

But I digress. Anyone who delivers presentations on a regular basis soon finds himself (or herself) wanting a single gizmo for pointing and slide-flipping. Sure I can use my phone (and there is no lack of utilities for Bluetooth phones), but setting anything up on Windows is always fiddly, no matter what, and you don't want to wrestle your laptop to the podium.

So after spotting the PowerPlay Pro USB remote in a local shop (hideously overpriced, as is usual in Portugal), I got curious. after all, having a presentation controller that you can simply plug in and "just work" seemed a far better idea than fiddling around with mobile phones and Bluetooth. Besides, the 32MB flash disk is enough to carry around even the most graphics-intensive presentation - making it, all in all, a neat idea.

It's not one worth paying Eur.97 for, though, especially when pricing across the pond is half that or less.

So I decided to spend a couple of hours investigating the USB HID spec and figuring out what else was out there. It turns out that it's fairly trivial to piece together a HID device, and that the realization that you can do HID devices that are not full mice and/or keyboards has spawned a whole new category of devices that (for a change) require absolutely no software installation or configuration to help you flick to the next slide.

Better still, I soon got sidetracked into investigating the Bluetooth HID profile and found out that someone with an actual working brain is driving the Bluetooth feature sets at SonyEricsson and that the K700 and the Z1010 (which are, after all, mostly the same phone) actually support the HID profile, making it possible to control your Mac or Windows machine over Bluetooth with zero extra software. Sadly, neither of the phones incorporates a laser pointer - or a "lightsaber", our nickname for the new trendy green laser pointers. Oh well.

Apparently you just upload a XML file to the phone to map phone keys to HID events, and presto - instant PowerPoint controller, acting as a Bluetooth keyboard/mouse as far as your laptop is concerned.

Maybe, just maybe, tech is becoming simpler after all.

Then again, the samples I tested weren't recognized by Mac OS X as HID devices, so there's something to be done here still - don't throw away PhoneAgent yet.

Update: XP does recognize the phones as a HID device, but I can't configure the key mappings (yet). Looks like it's Apple who has to get their act together on this...