There has been a lot of misinformation about the Sway service from Microsoft being a replacement for PowerPoint. This is simply not true. After spending time with the lead of the Sway team at the recent Microsoft MVP Summit, I came away with a much clearer understanding of how Sway differs from PowerPoint and when you might use each product.
In my understanding, the key use of Sway is for situations where you are willing to give control of the design decisions (positioning, colors, layout, fonts, etc.) to the Sway design engine. You simply give it pre-created content, and allow it to create a web/mobile-first design. PowerPoint is for situations that require full control over the design, such as maintaining corporate branding guidelines. You create the content and the output is usually a presentation that is delivered in front of an audience or emailed to them.
Here is a table that goes into more of the differences between Sway and PowerPoint in four key areas: Content, Design, Creation/Editing, and Delivery.
(as of Nov 2015; features may change or be added)
|Who decides the content||You; Sway suggests additional content from web sources based on the content you create||You|
|Who decides which content is most important||You (although Sway may interpret priority settings)||You|
|Include web content||Yes, primary content source||Possible; some web content may require effort to download and include; primary content is on device already or created in PowerPoint|
|Include content from programs like Excel, Word, PowerPoint, or PDF||Import brings in content from some sources; Some limitations on copy and paste features for text; limited formatting options; Graphs or charts may need to be saved as images before importing||Easy, many options for copying and pasting from other Office programs|
|Who decides the design (colors, fonts, positioning, etc.)||Sway design engine||You|
|Degree of control over design||Minimal, limited to options Sway allows you to control||You have full control|
|Design approach to viewer interactions with content||Web centric; scroll, motion, touch are important elements||Mainly static; interactions need to be manually added and have some limitations|
|Able to maintain corporate brand guidelines||No||Yes|
|Mobile creation/editing||Integral and designed from the start to support; some may consider as primary method||Now coming to mobile platforms and web application; limited features compared to desktop applications|
|Desktop creation/editing||Web browser for all platforms; Windows 10 desktop app||Native desktop applications|
|Creation of content such as diagrams/graphs||Simple charts can be created in Sway (Preview feature at this time); diagrams must be imported as images||Yes|
|Stand-up delivery in front of audience||Has screen by screen mode that can be used by a presenter||Yes|
|Viewers consume on own without presenter||Primary delivery method; display of content adapts to device size||Yes, usually through slidedocs|
|Sharing via email||Easy, link provided||Include as attachment subject to organization/provider rules on attachment size|
|Embed into website||Easy, embed code provided||More difficult, usually convert to another format such as PDF or SlideShare first|
|Location of finished product||On Sway servers; not compliant with corporate security policies that restrict content being on non-corporate servers||On corporate servers/computers; corporate content security restrictions maintained|
|Use of builds/animation you control||No||Yes|
|Non-linear & interactivity when presented in stand-up delivery||Yes, flexibility given to presenter to jump around cards or focus on elements||Yes, needs to be pre-determined for best results|
I see Sway being used for less formal situations, such as personal sharing of content with family and friends, community groups who want to more easily generate content without the burden of the design work, or situations where you need the content to be easily shared/embedded via a web viewing experience. PowerPoint will continue to be the choice for corporate presentations and slidedocs, and any situation where a presenter is at the front of the room and branding is important. Sway and PowerPoint will continue to co-exist, with each product being used in different situations.
Note: This article was originally written in November 2014 when Sway was in Preview and was updated in November 2015. As with all software, some features may be added and current features changed as the product evolves.