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Numbers Review

Rob Griffiths, | June 7, 2011
Solid mobile spreadsheet program adds iPhone compatibilty

While Numbers works just fine on the iPhone 4, my biggest problem with it is that there’s simply not enough screen real estate to work productively. It seemed every time I wanted to do something, I was either scrolling or zooming to make sure I had the right cell selected, or to see the big picture. It’s also very hard to get a sense for how your finished project will look when you’re laying it out one tiny section at a time.

In short, while Numbers runs just great on an iPhone or iPod touch, I wouldn’t want to use it for anything beyond simple spreadsheets or minor edits to larger projects. There’s a reason that serious spreadsheet jockeys usually have monstrous monitors connected to their desktop machines—there’s no such thing as too much screen space when creating large spreadsheet models.

This release of Numbers includes a number of new and/or improved features that make it easier to do what you need to do, and to share what you’ve done with others. The big news for me was that Numbers can now export in Excel format; previously, it could read, but not write, Excel files. This means you can now work on an Excel file on your iDevice, and output it back to that same format, so you can share it with those who use Office instead of Numbers.


Folded Up: Folders work just as they do in iOS, and bring organization to larger collections of Numbers spreadsheets.

You can now create folders in the spreadsheet browser mode. Folders work here exactly as they do in iOS in general—just drag-and-hover one icon over another, and you’ll create a folder. For those with a lot of spreadsheets, this is a welcome addition. Also new since Macworld’s last review is printing via AirPrint printers, though I was unable to test this feature.

Finally, if you’re the type who never reads in-app help, you should break that habit and read Numbers’ in-app help. It contains a lot of usability tips that will help you get the most out of the mobile spreadsheet app. For example, Help reveals how to restrict a drag operation to a straight line. (Hold one finger from one hand on the screen while dragging the object with a finder on your other hand.)

Not all is perfect in Numbers-land, however. Numbers still can’t import hide rows/columns or merge cells, which are two features that many spreadsheets use extensively. In particular, not being able to merge cells (and having merged cells break on import) will cause some layout headaches. You’re also still limited to your iDevice’s relatively meager font collection, and headers/footers and certain features on graphs also won’t survive the transition from the desktop to your iDevice.


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