March 21, 2017 Meeting Topic Overview: Numbers
by Jamie Cox
There are three ways to run Numbers:
- On the Macintosh
- On iOS (iPhone or iPad)
- From a Web Browser on iCloud
How to Get Numbers
Competition / Alternatives to Numbers
- Microsoft Excel(Office) – For giant documents and giant companies (Now with iOS version)
- Open Office – Free and Open Source Office suite
- NeoOffice – Commercialized version of Open Office customized for the Mac
- GoogleDocs – Cloud-based, free
Controversy Since iWork ’09
When the new version of Numbers for the Mac came out some features were dropped. Most of them have not been added back in. Reviews of the apps have been definitely mixed. Numbers only gets a 3-star rating on the App store (both versions).
Two-and-a-half to three stars is a pretty terrible rating, especially for an Apple app. As you can see, the ratings are very mixed with most reviewers giving either one star or five-star ratings. The ratings for the iOS version are very similar.
The one-star reviews are mostly from people upset about advanced features removed from the previous version. The five-star reviews tend to be from people who have come to the application fresh, with no special expectations.
Numbers includes hundreds of distinct features. The chart below highlights just a few of my favorite features as compared with Microsoft Excel.
Documents, Sheets and Tables
Numbers documents can have multiple sheets. Each sheet can have multiple tables. When you create a new Numbers document, it has one sheet with one table on that sheet.
If you have used Excel, having multiple sheets should be familiar. The main difference is that the sheets appear at the top of the window instead of at the bottom.
The concept of having multiple tables on a single sheet may be new to users of older spreadsheet programs. It is a very nice feature, which allows you to separate groups of data or formulas which are of different types instead of lumping them all into the same grid of rows and columns. You can arrange the tables on the page however you like.
Numbers uses a consistent set of formatting controls very similar to those in the Pages word processor we discussed last month. These are presented in a pane on the right hand side of the window. These controls look simple, but all together, they have a lot of power. In addition to the pre-defined Table and Text styles, you can create and save your own preferred styles.
Type an equals sign to enter formula editing mode for a cell. Color coding appears showing the source cells used in your formula. This makes it easier to understand if your formula is correct or to see the source of errors.
When you copy or fill a formula into additional cells, Numbers automatically adjusts cell references relative to the current cell. If you want to override that to select an absolute row, absolute column, or absolute cell, you can use the Preserve Row/Preserve Column options.
Importing Files From Excel
A common task in Numbers would be to open an Excel document created by someone else. This can work fairly well, but is not completely painless.
This imported okay, and the amortization calculations agreed, but the date formulas were not imported correctly and would have to be re-done in numbers.
One of our members asked how Numbers was at handling large files imported from Excel. To test this I created a large spreadsheet in Excel with 40,000 rows and about 14 columns. The file size in Excel was 3.7 Megabytes. Numbers opened it without complaint, but it took about 30 seconds. When saved as a native Numbers document, its size increased to 6.3 Mbytes, but the native document opened in Numbers in about five seconds.
Although I didn’t get any warnings in Numbers, I did get one “Not enough memory” message in Excel while cutting, pasting and filling to create the document. Excel handled it gracefully without crashing.
iOS Numbers App
The Numbers app on iOS is deliberately very similar to the version for Macintosh.
FYI, Excel also has an iOS app which is free in the App store. It looks like this:
The Excel app is apparently read-only until you register for and log in to a Microsoft Office 365 account.
If you want a spreadsheet program to perform the usual tasks of calculation, sorting and organizing, and you don’t have much prior experience with spreadsheets, you will find Numbers a very useful application. It’s especially easy to learn because of consistent controls across Mac and iOS versions and consistency with Pages and Keynote.
If you know what a pivot table is, or have a lot of spreadsheets already in Excel format, you may be dissatisfied with the limitations of Numbers.