iWork Updated (3): Numbers

By Graham K. Rogers


Numbers icon Apple updated its iWork productivity suite in January and I have been working with this since returning from Macworld. I initially used the trial I downloaded from the Apple website, but bought the licence online from the Thai Apple Store.

A correction: In my look at Keynote I wrote about the remote application that I use on the iPod touch. The Apple Remote for use with iTunes and AppleTV is a free download. Keynote Remote is a download that costs 99 cents. I had written that this was free.

Of the three parts of iWork, it is Numbers that is the most recent and while some viewed it as a competitor to spreadsheet software like Excel, it is both less than that and more. One of the main purposes of the whole of iWork is presentation of the product. Numbers has the functions of spreadsheet software, and these have been strengthened in this latest release, but the ways in which data may be created go beyond the normal spreadsheet software, such as I use for student marks.


There are now 30 templates including the blank spreadsheet. Running the cursor over any of them (including the blank) reveals additional, related templates, such as graphs. Any of these can be further enhanced, for example changing colours or text, by using the Inspector: a panel common to each part of iWork.

We may also open existing files. As well as the Numbers formatted files, it is possible to open (and save as) XLS files. I was unable to use spreadsheets created in NeoOffice (ODS) and these needed to be saved as XLS (Excel) files first.

Like other applications in Pages, export may be to iWork.com, via Mail (Numbers, PDF or Excel file types) or to iWeb; or may be in PDF, Excel or CSV files. Numbers, like all of iWork, handles Thai and has access to all fonts installed on the Mac. When I opened a test file, the Numbers panel had 15 tool icons ready displayed. Using the View Menu allows a user to select from all 43 tools for placement on the panel.

tools panel

An open file may be quickly formatted in a number of colour styles, by clicking on the relevant icon in a sidebar. At the bottom of the sidebar are also five of the more common formulae that may be used.


262 formulae are displayed in a function panel sorted by All, Recent or ten other types (e.g. Mathematical, Trigonometric). In NeoOffice, I counted 372. Highlighting any one of the functions, shows a clear text explanation of each with examples, plus links to other related functions and topics). Clicking on a link takes a user either to the function selected or opens a browser panel (like in the Finder Help pages) with more information. A button at the bottom allows the function to be inserted but it is greyed out if the function is not relevant to the data (or if no data is selected).

If a formula is entered in a cell, double clicking (or using Option + click) will reveal the details. Clicking on the triangle at the end of this information, gives a text summary of each part of the data used. Data is dynamic: if a graph or chart is used in another part of iWork, an update in Numbers is automatically applied to Pages or Keynote.


It is in the non-standard themes that Numbers has the greatest strength, for example a house inventory, such as a homeowner might prepare for the purposes of valuation or an insurance claim. Using similar holding images to Pages, photographs of the home and rooms can be dropped into one panel while another allows contents of each room to be listed and valued (my selections were already in Thai baht as the location format I chose in System Preferences uses this as the currency. Another example is a template for recording a baby's development.


The Help menu gives access to a number of sources which provide additional information on how Numbers (and the other parts of iWork) may be used to better effect. Online access is needed for many of these, including a video tutorial: something that Apple is producing for many of its latest releases, including iLife. Of great value accessed from this Help menu was a list of Keyboard shortcuts.

There are 180 commands listed. Some are system wide (Command + P, for Print). Some have more than one function: when we create a cell reference at the insertion point in formulae, Option + Return will insert a line break and also change a selected cell reference back to text, The Key commands list includes eight commands that take advantage of trackpad gestures when available, such as the Pinch to change font sizes.

Numbers performs as a spreadsheet but, with its templates adds to its value in terms of presentation, or as a practical data handling application for home users.


    See also,
  • iWork Updated (1): Keynote
  • iWork Updated (2) Pages


Made on Mac

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