Spreadsheets on the Go with Numbers for iPad

The Apple iPad tablet has sparked passionate debate regarding whether it can be a productive business tool, or is merely a consumer toy--a glorified iPod Touch with a thyroid condition. To make an attempt at resolving the debate, I have been putting the iWork for iPad apps--the rough equivalent of the core Microsoft Office productivity suite--to the test.

The spreadsheet is one of the de facto business productivity applications, so taking a closer look at how Numbers stacks up against Microsoft Excel, or at least how it works with Microsoft Excel seems like a fair barometer for measuring the business potential of the iPad.

Creating Spreadsheets

The first time you open Numbers you are greeted with an image that says "Tap to Get Started with Numbers". What I did not realize initially, but soon discovered, is that this is actually a Numbers spreadsheet providing the basic details you need to work with the app.

There are 14 different tabs explaining the conventions of pinching and zooming, and swiping to pan, as well as tabs explaining how to add new cell contents, or how to copy and paste from one cell to another. The basics of a spreadsheet should be simple enough, but it's nice that Apple has essentially included the user manual for Numbers as a spreadsheet for reference sake.

Clicking on the "My Spreadsheets" button at the top left brings you back to where the spreadsheet is represented as an image on the iPad screen. You can start a new spreadsheet by either touching the "New Spreadsheet" button at the top left, or the folder with the plus sign at the bottom of the screen--followed by touching the "New Spreadsheet" button that pops up. Clicking the folder at the bottom also offers an option to "Duplicate Spreadsheet" should you want to start with an existing spreadsheet as a foundation.

Touching "New Spreadsheet" brings up a screen of spreadsheet templates. There are 16 total, 15 pre-formatted for specific purposes, and one that is simply a blank spreadsheet. The pre-formatted templates include things like Checklist, Mortgage Calculator, Weight Loss & Running Log, Travel Planner, Expense Report, and Attendance roster.

If you choose the blank spreadsheet, you can obviously mold the spreadsheet to be whatever you need it to be. Double-tapping a cell brings up the virtual keyboard along with a an entry field representing the cell. You can switch from inputting numbers, to text, to dates and times, to formulas by touching the icons to the left of the input field.

Using the icons at the top of the display--which unlike Pages, the iWork for iPad equivalent for Microsoft Word, actually appear in both portrait and landscape display--you can access all of the common formatting options for cell contents, shading, fonts, etc.

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