Numbers for iPad review

Numbers is one of the unsung heroes of Apple’s product line-up. It’s one of the more recent additions to the Apple software range and is Apple’s answer to Microsoft Excel.

One big plus with Numbers (on both the iPad and Mac) is that it makes spreadsheets look amazing. Most people are only familiar with Excel, which is a highly functional spreadsheet program (in many ways more comprehensive than Numbers) but heavens, it’s dull to use and creates dull-looking documents.

Numbers, on the other hand, creates really great-looking spreadsheets. Like Keynote and Pages, it includes attractive 3D Charts, Shapes, and Media (photos only on the iPad); even the Tables are stylish. And it’s no lightweight when it comes to number crunching: it has full support for formulas, functions, and boolean logic. There are also lots of templates to get you started.

Between the sheets
If you need to you can import Excel documents (although we did get alerts about missing fonts, they didn’t affect display). However, Numbers doesn’t support Excel Macros, and complex Excel formatting will get lost in translation. Also, the conversion in the iPad app is one-way: from Excel to Numbers, not vice versa – so it’s not much use to PC users. Also, you can only export a Numbers document to PDF. We also found the iPad version incompatible with spreadsheets created in Numbers ‘08, which was annoying.

Sheets are organised in tabs across the top of the screen. In some ways this is clearer than on the Mac, which displays Sheets and sub-menus of Tables in the Sheets list. Users migrating from Excel might be confused at first that sheets can contain multiple tables; in Excel each sheet contains just one table.

One particularly nice touch is the way the keyboard changes depending on the data type selected. There are four available: Numbers, Date & Time; Text; and Formulas.

A tap too far
When it comes to manipulating cells there’s a lot of tapping involved in Numbers. And it’s not always obvious which tap does what. You tap to highlight a cell (this brings up drag points that enable you to select multiple cells); then tap again to access Cut, Copy, Paste, Delete, or Fill commands; tap and hold to pick up the cell or selection (to move it around); and double-tap to bring up the keyboard (at which point none of the other taps works, including cut, copy, and paste, which strikes us as odd). Tap Done to get back to normal.

Tappity tap, tap, tap... “JUST WORK WILL YOU!” is a thought that will run through your head more than once before you get the hang of creating and editing spreadsheets on the iPad touchscreen.

Maybe with time it will become second nature – after all the desktop metaphor (desktop, files, folders, and so on) must take some time to settle in for newcomers. But we can’t help but get the sneaking suspicion that Numbers on the iPad will just be too fiddly for the general public.

Learning curve
A slightly confusing interface is an issue for all the iWork apps, and in Numbers it’s compounded by the sheer amount of data types and formula sums provided by the app. However, it’s still a remarkable achievement to be able to edit complex spreadsheets on such a small and portable device.

As with the other iWork apps on the iPad, Apple provides a guide to take you through all the functions in detail. The guide to Numbers is great, and reading through it carefully will help to clear up some of the app’s more confusing aspects.

Numbers is alone in the trio of iWork apps in performing just as well in both landscape and portrait mode (Keynote only works in landscape mode, which will be interesting if you try to use it with a vertical-only keyboard dock) and Pages removes all the menu items in landscape mode.

There’s no denying that Numbers is an excellent technical achievement; especially in terms of interface design. The design team have clearly overcome considerable hurdles to create an application that enables you to effectively create and edit superb-looking and highly technical spreadsheets. In many ways Numbers is the most impressive of all the iPad applications; but it’s also the one that takes the longest to get to grips with.

OUR VERDICT

Numbers is a great addition to the iPad. The ability to edit and create spreadsheets on the go on a touchscreen device is something of a revelation. While the interface is an impressive technical achievement we’re not wholly convinced by it, and you will have to spend considerable time learning its nuances.

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