Numbers for iPhone and iPad review

Numbers for iPhone and iPad is a great way for casual users to manage spreadsheets but may not offer enough power for professionals... yet.

Apple's Numbers is the spreadsheet component of their iWork productivity suite of software, and a companion app to Pages for word processing and Keynote for presentations. Universal apps that work on iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, all three have proven to be popular choices for document management on the go and have just recently been updated to support for iOS 5.1 and the new iPad's Retina display.

If you're a new iPad or iPhone owner and need a way to create and edit spreadsheets on the go, Numbers is Apple's iCloud integrated solution. The question is, how easy is it to use and how much can you really do with it?

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Numbers isn't Excel, and that's okay

Apple's Numbers isn't Microsoft's Excel. That's the first and most important thing to remember. Apple's goal wasn't to copy Excel, Lotus, or Visicalc, but to come up with a spreadsheet program that was easy to use and could produce great looking documents fairly quickly.

That said, if you've used Excel in the past, you should feel pretty comfortable with Numbers as well.

Creating spreadsheets in Numbers

To add content to a spreadsheet in Numbers -- whether it be text, a table, an image, or something else, you simply tap on the Add button (looks like a + sign) in the top right corner.

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Once you add an object, you can move on to editing and formatting it.

Numbers also makes it easy to format content with the formatting brush. It's represented by a paintbrush icon in the upper right hand corner. In order to use it, you'll need to highlight something you'd like to format. From there it will smartly choose options based on what kind of content you'd like to edit.

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For example, if you select a table full of data, it will give you the option to turn that data into charts or graphs quickly and easily. If you're selecting a block of text, it'll give you options for format that text as a header, change the font, place borders around it, and many more options.

If you've used past versions of iWork on your iPhone or iPad, you may have noticed that the formatting icon and menu have changed a bit in the updated version.

Sharing your work

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Numbers gives you a few ways that you can share your content directly from your iPhone or iPad. You can share your work via e-mail, send it to iTunes (where you can open it via the desktop Numbers app for Mac), and print it.

Currently Numbers still gives users the option to share it to or iDisk as well. Given iDisk and will be discontinued this summer, I'm not quite sure why Apple is still allowing them as options. I'd advise new users to stay away from them and just enable iCloud from the beginning to avoid having to transfer documents over before Apple turns off these services.

Syncing with iCloud

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Upon first launching any of the iWork for iOS apps on your iPhone or iPad, you'll be asked whether or not you'd like to sync with iCloud. I'd recommend doing so if you plan on editing and accessing documents from multiple iOS devices. This way, if you make changes to a spreadsheet on your iPad, your changes will be synced with all your devices.

There are, however, a few flaws to this system. I'm not a fan of the fact that I have to log in to iCloud from a browser and download files and re-upload them when at a computer. I was really hoping Apple would have implemented a better solution by now.

If you only have the need to edit iWork documents on the go, iCloud is just fine but we have to be practical -- most users need to be able to easily edit them on a computer whether in iWork on Mac or Microsoft Office on Windows or Mac as well. The integration just isn't that great when you've got to download a document from iCloud, edit what you need to, and re-upload it in order for it to sync the current version to all your devices.

A syncing solution that better integrates documents with iCloud will hopefully be a big part of what OS X Mountain Lion will bring to the table.

Download Numbers for iOS files to your computer to view in Excel

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While iCloud does allow you to download documents to your computer in Excel format, there's no escaping the fact that Excel and Numbers handle some types of data differently. If you use a lot of extensive or custom-built formulas, switching between Numbers and Excel probably isn't too pretty.

I've come across a few occasions where I'd created extensive formulas or functions in Excel or Numbers and when I'd try to cross-edit, the formulas would break or output an error. This has a lot to do with how each handle formulas and syntax. Unfortunately, it's probably not something Apple can overcome easily.

What's new in Numbers 1.6

Numbers 1.6 is a free upgrade to existing Numbers for iOS users, and comes with a few new features.

Reorganized user interface

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Anyone who previously used iWork on the iPhone or iPad may have noticed that some of the main interface elements were switched around. I've found the new layout to be much more productive than the old one.

The main controls have been brought down from four to three. Within these three sections, you'll find a lot of your options have been condensed or re-organized.

The new layout took me less than 10 minutes to get used to and where I logically thought something would have been moved was typically where it ended up. Existing users won't need to worry about re-learning the program and new users will benefit from the more intuitive layout.

3D charts and graphs

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One of the most talked about features in Numbers 1.6 is the ability to easily add 3D charts and graphs to your spreadsheets. While the 2D charts were good enough for most, the 3D charts really do make spreadsheets created in Numbers pop.

Let's face it, no one really likes staring at spreadsheets during a meeting or presentation for very long. It's essential that you have a way to convey your information in a way that's fun and engaging. I find the 3D charts and graphs to be a way to do exactly that.

Once you've got your data set up in a plain text chart, Apple has made it drop dead simple to turn that data into an easy to read 3D pie chart or graph. To add a chart to a spreadsheet, tap the "+" symbol to add an element and choose 3D charts. From there you can highlight the content from your spreadsheet you'd like to appear in the chart and you're done.

Customizing and editing things like color, font, what data to display on what axis, and other design elements is easier to access with the new formatting icon (hint: it's the paintbrush in the upper right hand corner). You can also drag individual contents around such as the title or chart key for easy placement and adjustment.

Stability improvements

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While the addition of 3D charts and graphs is welcome, the thing I was most happy to see in action were the stability and performance improvements. I'm normally pretty skeptical of companies releasing an update with a generic "performance enhancements" description. This time, it really is noticeable.

I've always found the interface of Numbers on iPhone and iPad to be somewhat difficult to work with as it always seemed to lag behind. I'd attempt to highlight a few cells and the cursor could sometimes not keep up with my finger. This seems to be less of an issue this time around. If you're working with spreadsheets that contain a lot of data it could always be rather tedious to use your iPhone or iPad to edit them or make changes. I always experienced lag. With smaller spreadsheets that don't contain a tremendous amount of data or formulas, it's probably a non-issue for most.

Using my iPad 2, I do still experience some lag when typing content into cells and trying to switch between them. Sometimes I find myself having to tap twice in order for Numbers to realize I'm trying to switch between cells. I tested out Numbers on a first generation iPad and unfortunately, a lot of the lag still seems to be present. It'll be interesting to see how the new iPad will handle large spreadsheets.

The good

  • 3D charts and graphs are extremely easy to create and manipulate
  • Enhanced speed and stability are noticeable
  • The integration with iCloud between iOS devices works without a hitch
  • Menu system is easy for new users to grasp

The bad

  • Still no landscape support for iPhone which is more than annoying when trying to edit spreadsheets that are wide
  • Having to download and re-upload new versions to iCloud while on a computer is cumbersome
  • While Excel is supported as a downloadable format, extensive formulas and functions still may break when cross-editing


Numbers for iPhone and iPad is a great way for casual users to manage spreadsheets but may not offer enough power for professionals... yet. The power of the Apple A5X processor in the new iPad will no doubt make handling larger spreadsheets smoother and easier, and the Retina display will make them look better than ever.

Aside from some minor improvements, however, I really don't feel iWork received as much attention as the iLife suite this time around, namely GarageBand, iMovie, and the all new iPhoto for iOS.

Numbers 2.0 should be a priority for Apple if they want the iPad to continue to convert people to mobile productivity. In the meantime, I'll continue using the current Numbers for basic spreadsheets that I need access on the go.

It will also be interesting to see what, if anything Microsoft brings to the table if they decide to pull the trigger on Microsoft Office for iPad.

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Allyson Kazmucha

iMore senior editor from 2011 to 2015.

  • Good review! The only thing is when you use a PC, you don't need to download and upload manually. Just download the iCloud control panel and you will be able to use iCloud at its full potential as it will sync everything automatically on your PC.
  • You sure it syncs your spreadsheets? I am pretty sure you have to add them again to - I have Macs and mine aren't syncing. Unless I'm doing something wrong?
  • Much appreciate the review!
    Any chance of doing an add-on that would cover some of its basic features (or lack thereof)?
    For example, I discovered today that Docs 2 Go is miserable at basic copying and pasting edits on my iPhone--Tiny Sheet on the Palm, years ago, was light years ahead with dedicated copy/paste icons.
    Or, how about selecting multiple cells at one time? You know, the type of thing that one routinely does in Excel (and IIRC, TS did with aplomb, too). You cannot do it in D2G--only complete rows or columns. All too often, in basic spreadsheets, one simply wants to highlight/select several cells and change their formatting all at one time. Or, copy and paste them somewhere else.
    How well does Numbers handle such basics?
    And, in the more "advanced" category, does it do x-y scatter plots? If the answer to that and the above is yes, I'm buying it tomorrow!
  • Still need to support error bars and stats. This device is used by a lot of professionals in science and it is hard to show a bargraphs without error bars and stats. This feature needs to be added.
  • strongly agree!
  • Great review. I would love to see a review of Pages & Keynote for iOS.
  • Charts & graphs are meant to provide a quick & clear interpretation of data, not to make things look "pretty." Instead of wasting time adding 3-D charting/graphics, which make it harder to see data relationships, they shoukd have focused on functional enhancements. For instance, the inability to view a spreadsheet in landscape is inexcusable especially from a company that prides itself on usability & function.
    Office2 Plus gets most things right, is feature rich, simple to use, & inexpensive.. Most of the negative ratings it gets are due to users who don't read the product's description about buying before saving data. I recommend trying that program (for free).before committing to Numbers.
  • I completely agree on Office2. I've used it for about a year now and never had a problem. Sync to Dropbox works well too.
  • How many time will they review this and all other iWork programs?!?!?! (>_<)
  • As long as there are new iOS users, plenty.
    No harm, no foul.
  • "Numbers isn’t Excel, and that’s okay"
    Actually, it's not ok. It's not even close.
  • One of the major things I like about it is the ability to see merged cells on the iPhone! Every thing I tried would not read merged cells, and numbers does!
  • I have made the switch from word, and power point over to Pages and Keynote. I am loving it. I don't know if I can leave Excel, seeing that it's the only thing my work will use. The it guy is a hardcore pc guy who uses a BlackBerry and thinks its the best phone ever. When I use Keynote, I simply plug my apple TV into the projector. I am tired of Mocrosoft crapps. I am ready for a full chafe to apple. Keep up the food work, and the great reviews.
  • Great review!
    Personally, I've always been terrible at creating spreadsheets -- but after completing the tutorial that comes with Numbers, I find it much easier than Excel. The touch interface makes it seem a lot more intuitive than just a keyboard.
    One thing I noticed though is the Excel compatibility -- not so good. I created a spreadsheet I'm sure many would consider an abacus -- Excel didn't like it at all -- but each table on the one page Numbers spreadsheet into it's own tab (there were 26 tables, each a 2-week period in 2012). I don't need it to work in Excel, but was trying to give it to someone with a PC.
    Now that I'm using Numbers, I'll likely never attempt to use Excel again -- my spreadsheet needs aren't extensive though, so I can't speak to that...
  • Hello, i'm french and i'd like to know if there is a airplay fonction with Numbers . Thanks
  • Hello, I'm french and I'd like to know if there's AN airpay fUnction within Numbers. Thanks.
  • Can somebody please send me the Employee Schedule template for Numbers iOS. I have accidentally deleted it.
    PLease :-)
    alexander (dot) lysiak (at) yahoo (dot) no
  • I have just purchased the New iPad and installed the Numbers App. I have been using Numbers on my Mac for a while now and transferred the file via Dropbox onto my iPad. The lag I am experiencing is ridiculously slow ie at least 8 characters behind. Can anyone shed some light onto why this is occurring? I'm not overly impressed as the main reason I purchased an iPad was to use this particular file on the run.
  • Has anyone figured out how to enter a table name into a formula, other than selecting the entire cell range of the table? iOS Numbers won't just let you enter the name of it (if you type it in, iOS Numbers will put double quotes around it, and it will be invalid as a cell range.) For example, let's say I have a table called, MyTable and I want to use the HLOOKUP function. After I select the HLookup function tokens of the input bar look like this: HLOOKUP (seach-for) (rows-range) (return-row) (close-match) So with the (search-for) field, I tap a single cell, which is easy enough, but it's the (rows-range) where my question lies. It appears that the only way to get MyTable entered into the (rows-range) field is to tap the upper left cell of the table, then drag the cell handle (the little circular thing that now appears at the bottom-right of that selected cell - that allows you to select multiple cells by dragging) over the entire table. Is there some other way? Note the support article that should address this problem, "Calculate values using data in table cells", specifically, the 'Insert predefined functions into cells:' section (this comment form will not allow me to enter the URL, sorry), does not address this question. If selecting the entire table is the only way to input a table name in a iOS Numbers formula, this is a gaping hole in its usability. If there is a way, then certainly it should be documented, which it apparently isn't. Another related failing of iOS Numbers in this very situation, is that it LETS you enter text in the (rows-range) field, even though it has no intention of allowing text as an argument - unless I'm just not entering the right text (note: I've tried "MyTable", "MyTable::", and the entire range of the table "MyTable::A1:AB2" - none of them work.)
  • Deleting this comment reply, because the problem I was having was fixed by restarting the iPad. This form won't let me delete the comment, so I have to type something here.
  • UPDATE: Numbers 2.0 has come out (I was using 1.7.3 in the comment above). They still won't let you type in a range name, but I figured out why: iOS Numbers tables don't have names! I was confused because I created my spreadsheet in Mac OS X Numbers, where the table had a name and I was assuming I could use that same table name on the iPad. But when you share it on your iOS device, there is no place to display the name, therefore table names created in Mac OS X Numbers are irrelevant in iOS Numbers! Now I get it. But still, Numbers 2.0 for iOS will not let you type in the cell range of the table, say, for example, A1:C2 in the (row-range) field of a function like HLOOKUP. After you type it in, in the Numbers text editor and tap Done, It puts quotes around the text ( "A1:C2" ) and later rejects it as an argument - you get an error when you're done inputting the formula. You are forced to manually drag-select the cells and that is the only way to enter a cell range. What if it's a large table? Like I said above, a gaping hole in usability. (Unless there is an easy way to select a table, no matter how large it is, that I haven't learned yet. Anybody?) Also, Numbers 2.0 for iOS still lets you type in text for function field that won't accept text, then gives you an error when you're done - another WTF usability situation.
  • MY MISTAKE: Numbers for iOS does have table names, but only if you create the table using the upper right + menu. It will give it a default name like, "Table 1" which you can then double tap to edit. But still, for the purpose of entering formulas, that table name is irrelevant, as far as I can see - you still must manually drag-select all the cells of the table, you can't type in any text to reference it in the formula.