Apple's Numbers: Innovative, User-Friendly Spreadsheet Application

| About: Apple Inc. (AAPL)

By Carl Howe

I downloaded the iWork '08 trial application, and have just started playing with Numbers. I've used Excel for about 20 years (I actually used the original Macintosh version 1.0 before it got ported to Windows in 1995), and I have to say, in Numbers, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) demonstrates that there's actually quite a bit of innovation that can be done with the basic spreadsheet application.

click to enlarge
Numbers Chart

The image above is actually an Excel spreadsheet I use for forecasting Apple earnings (this is an old one, by the way). I've selected row 19 on the spreadsheet to look at my projection of iPod unit sales. When I made that selection, I discovered my favorite feature so far is in the bottom left-hand corner of the sheet/style pane.

Here's a quick blow-up:

Numbers Blowup 2

In Excel, if I wanted to know how many units I had projected for those two years, I'd have to find a spare cell and insert a sum formula there. But in Numbers, just by selecting the cell, I get the sum and average right there on the page: I projected 115,000 iPods over two years, an average of 14,381 a quarter. It may not sound like much, but when you've got a client on the phone asking for an answer, it's so nice when software anticipates what questions you might reasonably ask.

Another feature I'm rather excited by is the ability to send a spreadsheet, table, or graph to iWeb for publishing. At present, my process for doing that is to either export a Web image from Excel (which looks awful, generally), or to craft tables by hand in HTML. If I can actually get to the point where Numbers and iWeb generate my blogging tables for me, I will be using this application all the time.

Now Numbers is no speed demon on my 4-year-old Titanium G4 Powerbook. But to be fair, neither are Word, or Excel. I've been using both Pages, and Keynote more this year here at Blackfriars to achieve our year-long mission of "better documents faster." Already, our default for presenting is now Keynote because it just looks more professional, and 90% of our documents now get produced in Pages, and are then exported to Word. Numbers now makes it likely we'll be doing the same with spreadsheets, simply because it saves us time, which turns into money. And with these programs able to import and export Office 2007 files - something that Microsoft Office on the Mac doesn't even do yet - iWork '08 is starting to look like a gotta-have-it app.

UPDATE: Astute reader Adam Daniel noted that Excel actually has such a feature down in its status line. If you select a range of cells, a "Sum=" appears and gives you the sum of the cells. If you click on that item, you can select Average, Count, and other statistics, although you can only show one at a time. It's a great example of a how different the two user interfaces and experiences are. Sum= is a feature I've seen in Excel for more than 20 years, and never understood or used, while the corresponding feature in Numbers was obvious, and I used it within the first 10 minutes of playing with it.