updated 09:09 am EDT, Fri July 5, 2013
Numbers for iCloud is beautiful, elegant and simple to use
In past two days, we have taken a "first look" at Pages for iCloud and Keynote for iCloud. Both are great examples of Apple's software-making prowess, and reinforce Apple CEO Tim Cook's recent assertion that it remains 'laser focused on product innovation'. Not being one for working with numbers, I was not particularly looking forward to looking more closely at Numbers. However, just as Pages and Keynote for iCloud will change your perception of what is possible in a web-based app, Numbers for iCloud will too. Even if you've never used a spreadsheet before, you just might actually want to use Numbers for iCloud when it debuts in the fall.
While newcomers might find Numbers for iCloud the most approachable spreadsheet application they've yet to come across, there is also plenty there for power users also. Numbers for iCloud will let you work with a full-blown Microsoft Excel spreadsheet simply by dragging and dropping it into the open browser page. It quickly loads and gets processed at the back end so that it is compatible with the Numbers for iCloud web app. Once processed, the file is ready to edit and manipulate just as you would in a native desktop app. It's fast, and very easy to get going.
As with Pages and Keynote for iCloud, Apple has a selection of professional quality templates to get you started rather than dropping you directly into a blank sheet. When I saw the set that Apple has already put together for the Numbers for iCloud beta, the program suddenly looked a lot like an app I will actually want to use. Attractive and easily-accessible templates ready to go include a checklist, loan comparison, personal budget, mortgage calculator, personal savings, auto log, weight loss and training, and a travel planner among several others.
These are all really useful and better still, super easy to use. I toyed around with the personal budget template, which comes preformatted with a pie chart and a bar graph. It is really something else to watch the preset formulas and functions automatically and dynamically adjust the pie chart and template the instant that new data is entered into a corresponding field. The user doesn't need to do a thing to make it happen. Yet, for more advanced users, all the formulas and functions can also be edited and tailored to specific requirements if you choose. Apple says that there are over 250 functions built into Numbers for iCloud.
The vacation-planning template is another Numbers for iCloud template that is likely to be popular with users who wouldn't otherwise typically use a spreadsheet. Advanced users are probably going to enjoy using it as well. Apple has also built-in the powerful image editing tools that also feature in both Pages and Keynote for iCloud. Photos can be manipulated in a variety of ways, with spacing and placement guides automatically appearing and disappearing when needed. Right-click functionality is also built in.
As I've written about Pages and Keynote for iCloud, you really need to do a double-take to fully appreciate that this is all happening in a browser. It is so much like a desktop that if someone who didn't know better was watching you using the apps, they would assume that they were native desktop apps. None of the new iWork web apps work offline, however. The web apps are also compatible with Internet Explorer 9 or later and Chrome 27.0.1 or later as well. We've also tested the apps with our Chromebook. Although not fully supported, it was functional.
Apple's investment in several massive data centers in recent years is already reaping significant dividends, helping to further differentiate its products and services. It ties multiple user devices together seamlessly in a way that no competitor can match. iTunes has been described as 'sticky' in that its ease of use and integration across devices attracts users and then helps to keep them on the platform. Apple's iCloud is rapidly evolving into a formidable consumer service that is making the platform ever stickier moving into the future. This is not meant in a negative way - people will only stick around if the products and services warrant the loyalty.
The iWork for iCloud suite of web apps are shaping up as simply outstanding products. They will almost certainly keep current Apple users very happy, and will do a lot to help to attract future users. This fall is going to be a busy time for Apple, with a raft of product launches impending. Products like iOS 7 and the next iPhone will get more headlines and attention than iWork for iCloud; but that does not mean that what Apple has achieved here is any less significant.
By Sanjiv Sathiah
First look: Pages for iCloud
First look: Keynote for iCloud