Rounding Off With Numbers

Apple’s Numbers app, part of the iWork suite of apps for iOS, has often been one of the most popular apps for crunching those numbers on the go, despite some rather painful limitations. It was certainly not a perfect app, far from it, but it worked well enough and looked good enough to still be useable, especially in the absence of any form of Microsoft Office for iOS.

With the relaunch of iWork on both Mac and iOS, Numbers received a huge makeover to include some of the new, and welcome, features that have made them so popular. But, despite the new makeover, some of the app just doesn’t add up.

Number Crunching

As per the rest of the iWork suite, Numbers received a significant makeover, eschewing the last remnants of the stitched leather and dark linen, moving towards a totally unified experience that flows seamlessly between not only the rest of the iWork suite, but iOS 7 itself. While many developers are, quite rightly, carving their own take on the newer, gradient-free iOS, Apple can enjoy the luxury of trying to keep its apps looking as close to it as possible.

This unification makes using each iWork app much easier and familiar, as the layout between them is almost identical, so you’re not having to learn (or re-learn) each app.

Your spreadsheets are easily displayed, though no search function exists, and there's a wealth of templates at your disposal.

Your spreadsheets are easily displayed, though no search function exists, and there’s a wealth of templates at your disposal.

Numbers, like the rest of iWork, uses iCloud at its core and you would be remiss if you attempted to use the app without it. Spreadsheets are kept in almost constant sync across all your devices, including iCloud.com. Being able to create a spreadsheet on an iPhone, edit it on a Mac, add more information to it on an iPad and finally collaborate with another iCloud user, all without the fuss of copying files, is a rare glimpse at the iCloud that Apple wants users to see, even if it isn’t always the one we have right now.

Balancing Act

Despite what your friends may have told you, spreadsheets aren’t actually as fun or exciting as you’d hope and accountants rarely enjoy the glamorous rock-and-roll lifestyle that they were once so accustomed to.

But, it seems, Apple is making the case to put the “fun” back in “funding allocation and cost projections for the next fiscal year” with a plethora of templates to start your new spreadsheets from, ranging from simple checklists to advanced charting and scheduling. Certainly, there is something for everyone and we’ve all benefited from a spreadsheet at some point or another.

These templates tend to be less about creating a starting point and more about demonstrating just what you can do with Numbers, and there’s certainly a lot it can do. Spreadsheets offer multi-sheet and form support, advanced formulas and data detection/sorting bring almost as much functionality from the desktop version to iOS. For example, building a graph or chart is ridiculously easy and is, quite literally, just a case of highlighting a selection of data and then tapping “Create Chart”. That’s it, no wizards or assistants, just data that is instantly charted correctly.

There are many great layout options and accessing and managing data sets is very straightforward, especially with some of the custom keyboards available.

There are many great layout options and accessing and managing data sets is very straightforward, especially with some of the custom keyboards available.

One of the best features of Numbers has always been that new sheets within a spreadsheet never exist as one big table and, in some ways, the app is similar to Pages. You can add multiple tables and lists to the same sheet but have far more control over the layout of each, keeping them independent – far easier than other spreadsheet apps that are more popular on other platforms.

In terms of layout options, a number of objects, text boxes and even photos can be added to sheets.

Sharing

One of the biggest new additions to iWork has been the refinement of its sharing options, and Numbers is certainly no exception. In addition to automatic syncing across all iCloud devices and iCloud.com, multiple users can edit it via iCloud’s new collaborate feature.

Exporting spreadsheets is, thankfully, much easier if you’d prefer not to use iCloud. With the all-new option to export to 3rd-party apps, spreadsheets can finally be placed into your Dropbox folder or any other file management app. In addition, spreadsheets can be exported in native Numbers format or Excel, PDF or CSV formats.

Sharing spreadsheets can be done via iCloud for collaboration or, by popular demand, to 3rd-party apps in a variety of formats.

Sharing spreadsheets can be done via iCloud for collaboration or, by popular demand, to 3rd-party apps in a variety of formats.

Elephant in the Room

Unfortunately, there’s a 4-inch elephant in the room: landscape mode. Numbers does not work in Landscape mode, at all. You’re entirely fixed into viewing spreadsheets in portrait mode which feels so restrictive that it can ruin the experience. You’ll find yourself panning across spreadsheets almost constantly, accidentally tapping data sets or moving charts without meaning to, and the entirely new interface just feels far too cramped.

The interface is far too restricted in portrait and desperately needs landscape support.

The interface is far too restricted in portrait and desperately needs landscape support.

Whether this decision is due to some of the larger keyboards/keypads that the app displays or another reason, I don’t know. But not being able to take advantage of the iPhone 5/5s/5c larger display in an app where it would make the most sense is, quite frankly, baffling.

Pricing

Numbers is free for existing users and anyone purchasing a new iOS device. For everyone else, it’s still $9.99.

Conclusion

Numbers always felt like the app that was left behind with more focus seemingly on Pages and Keynote. With Numbers 2.0, Apple has brought the same interface and functionality that is found in the other apps and made it an app that is just as easy to use, in most cases, than the others.

It’s a shame that you are, still, unable to search by name for spreadsheets you’ve saved, a feature missing from the rest of iWork for iOS, so anyone who is amassing a rather large collection of spreadsheets will find navigating through them getting more and more difficult as it grows.

Using Numbers for creating and editing spreadsheets is, quite simply, fantastic – provided you’re spreadsheets are narrow. The embedded iCloud support, providing an up to date version of a spreadsheet no matter where you are makes for excellent platform independence when it comes to editing and you won’t need to constantly be importing or exporting your data. Unfortunately, the lack of landscape support is such a glaring omission and a huge negative in what was, so far, a great app, one that can prove enough of a frustration to avoid using it altogether.


Summary

A great way to create and edit spreadsheets, but the lack of landscape support is such a glaring omission and a huge negative that can prove enough of a frustration to avoid using it altogether.

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