One of the best apps on the iPad is Numbers. For anyone that needs spreadsheets it is essential. I've been using it since it was first introduced on the Mac and then as soon as it was available on iPad. I suspect that, based on some interactions I've had with acquaintances, Numbers is one of those apps that could benefit from some Apple iPad promotion. People seem to be unaware that it exists or, if they are aware of it, do not know what they can do with it. As David Sparks wrote in a recent article about iPad :

If Apple wants to see an increase in iPad sales, I think the answer is making them more useful and getting the word out. Apple should get serious about adding features to iOS that allows users to be more productive in getting their work done. On top of that, Apple should start demonstrating to the public with some its clever advertising how lots of normal people are getting work done on the iPad. I'm not talking about videos of people taking the iPad deep-sea diving but instead how people use it to make spreadsheets, write documents, and all the other work that most of us do to pay for our shoes.

A great example of putting Numbers to work is a client that recently needed some updates to labels for her hand-made soaps and lotions as well as updates to the order form her sales rep uses. As it turns out her order form had been put together by a previous designer using Illustrator. While it looked nice visually it was a mess to edit and was only functional when printed on paper. In conversation with her it became apparent that she would like for her sales rep to be able to enter the data right on her iPhone or iPad so that they could be quickly and easily emailed immediately after the order. The obvious choice was Numbers.

Within an hour I had a Numbers spreadsheet that looked nearly identical to the pretty form created in Illustrator but now she had a form that worked on device, would auto-calculate the total for each line item then calculate the total for each section and, finally, calculate the total amount of the order. No more hand writing and scanning. The whole process is easier and faster for both the sales rep and my client. Even better for my client (not so much for me), she can now update the items in the Numbers spreadsheet herself rather than hire me to do it.

This is the sort of easy to set-up and use workflow that the iPad is perfect for.

Another example would be a Numbers document I created to track my utilities usage. My tiny house shares a utility line with a cabin owned by my sister and her family. I'm a full time resident and they are part-time visitors on weekends. I've got a spreadsheet set-up that allows for easy entry of monthly usage, amount paid and various calculation fields do the work of sorting the payment amounts. I've also used it to keep track of all sorts of data for projects and interests including the membership roster for our local astronomical society, astronomical observing lists, a list of NASA missions and the Periodic Table of Elements.

Numbers is a great way to get started with spreadsheets. It may not be as powerful as Excel but I've found it meets (and exceeds) all of my needs and works great on the iPad. Like all iWork apps it also comes with some great templates that are often a great way to get started on a project. For folks that might need a larger feature set, Excel on the iPad may be the better way to go though I can't say much about it as I've not used it.

One way I hope to see Apple improve Numbers might also require an iOS change and that is to allow for two Numbers windows in split screen mode. I'm sure many would agree that there are times when having two spreadsheets open side by side would be very helpful. For example, I can easily imagine a business owner like my client mentioned above compiling a monthly report of sales in which case she might easily want two Numbers documents open at the same time.

I don't doubt that Apple has plans for such improvements and I'm looking forward to them.