Apple Numbers '08
Apple Pages '08 and Apple Keynote '08 both received noteworthy feature upgrades in iWork '08, but it is the addition of Apple Numbers '08 that has gotten the most attention, and with good reason. Apple Numbers '08 is unlike any other spreadsheet tool I've ever seen. The first time I used it, my first thought was, "This is so cool," followed by astonishment that I'd actually thought of a spreadsheet application as "cool." But that is what makes Apple Numbers '08 defy any prejudices one has about spreadsheets. It is intuitive and easy to use and, more important, gives users a chance for creative expression that is completely unexpected when working with a spreadsheet.
Apple iWork '08's Apple Numbers '08 does this by moving beyond simply being a generic grid of blank cells on a worksheet. In fact, Apple Numbers '08 doesn't use worksheets in the traditional sense at all. It's based on a concept of Sheets and Tables in which Sheets are pages that contain Tables, which in turn are essentially self-contained spreadsheets (complete with a grid that is only fully displayed when the Table is selected). Each Sheet can contain one or more Tables as well as text, graphics and charts, turning a Sheet into a complete information package.
The concept of Apple Numbers '08's multiple Sheets and Tables is as ingenious as it is attractive. A document for planning an event, for example, can contain separate Tables covering attendees, tasks to accomplish, a schedule for event activities, contacts for service vendors, and cost analysis. Each of these can be placed on a single Sheet, and you can drag tables around on the Sheet (or even from one Sheet to another in the same file) to organise and document the information.
The Event Planner is just one example of the wide range of templates that Apple iWork '08 Apple Numbers '08 includes, from grade books for teachers to home improvement projects; they really help you begin to see everyday uses that you might never have thought of using a spreadsheet for. (There are templates for the less surprising budgets and expense reports as well.)
Adding text boxes or graphics to a Sheet is as easy as adding them to a slide in Apple Keynote '08 or a document in Apple Pages '08. Simply click a button to get a new text box, complete with all the text formatting tools you'll ever need. For pictures, bring them in from the Apple iLife media browser or via drag and drop from the Finder, and get the same 3-Deffects, masks and resizing options found throughout Apple iWork '08.
To add cell and table formatting as well as colors to a Apple Numbers '08 table, you can just select from a list of predefined Styles; you can also modify an existing Style and save it for later use. Formatting of individual cells is done through the Format Bar or the Inspector. You can't save a cell style, but you can copy and paste the formatting from one cell to another. Cell options include conditional formatting that changes the look of the cell if it meets specific criteria -- you can make a bill that's past due display in red, for example. One of the most fun options in Apple Numbers '08 is the ability to use images as the background fill for tables. Talk about making a spreadsheet look good.
Setting up charts is beyond simple in Apple iWork '08: select a Table and choose a chart type. (And if you choose a chart without selecting a Table first, Apple Numbers '08 will create one appropriate to the type of chart.) Like Tables, you can move a chart anywhere on a sheet or onto a different Sheet from the Table that it is based on. You get an entire range of 3D effects as well as predefined color sets (or you can drag colour samples to specific pieces of a chart if you want to make your own color palette). You just click the appropriate tab in the Inspector palette to change from one chart type to another. Never has making charts and graphs that look this good been this easy.
Doing calculations is just as easy in Apple iWork '08's Apple Numbers '08. Common functions are immediately available from a menu in the toolbar, and many of them automatically act on the numbers in the column of the cell you assign them to. For example, if you select a cell at the bottom of a column and choose Average from the Function menu, the cell will average all the cells above it. You can specify specific cells to include in a function as well, and as in Excel, you can do so by just clicking each cell - no need to type the row and column number. A particularly nice touch is that the functions are aware of the column headers, so that rather than reading "=AVERAGE(C2:C9)," the cell's value will read "=AVERAGE(Math Test)" or whatever.
If you do need to use more advanced formulas in Apple Numbers '08, there are more than 150 functions that you can use, all of them comparable to their Excel counterparts (which is great if you open an Excel file or need to export for Excel users). None of the engineering and database functions available in Excel are duplicated in Apple Numbers '08, however, and only about half the statistical functions have equivalents. Furthermore, the pivot table feature is not included in Apple Numbers '08. As a result, serious number crunchers may feel more than a little hemmed in, and any longtime Excel user will probably need some time to get used to the new graphical world that Apple Numbers '08 offers.
One easily overlooked set of features new to Apple iWork '08 is in the Sort & Filter Panel, which allows you to not only sort data in a table but also filter the results. In this aspect, Apple Numbers '08 behaves almost like a database by letting you see only data that you want (transactions before a given date, people who have confirmed to attend an event, bills that are unpaid, invoices over a certain amount and so on). The process of setting filters - basically the familiar Mac approach of choosing search criteria from pop-up menus - is much easier and more capable than performing equivalent tasks in Microsoft Excel.
Speaking of Microsoft Excel, Apple iWork '08's Apple Numbers '08 can easily open Excel files. For a number of the Excel documents I've tested, Apple Numbers '08 invited me to review minor warnings after opening them, mostly dealing with formatting issues and one or two formulas. And in some cases, heavy calculations in a Microsoft Excel document that I opened in Apple Numbers '08seemed to take longer to process than they did in Excel or in a similar document created from scratch in Apple Numbers '08, even after the Excel document was saved as an Apple Numbers '08 file.
Apple Numbers '08 also exports well to Microsoft Excel. Each Table in an Apple Numbers '08 document becomes a separate worksheet when exported, and the first page of the converted document presents a summary of which Tables were converted into which worksheets. Images included in an Apple Numbers '08 file, as well as any charts, are placed on a separate worksheet as well. Other text content and much formatting are lost during the export process, but comments are preserved. Apple iWork '08's Numbers '08 also supports export CSV files for use in other spreadsheet applications or databases.
Apple iWork '08's Show Print View is another great feature it would be easy to miss in Apple Numbers '08. Not only does it show you how your current sheet will print, but you can directly edit anything while in it. You can resize or filter a table to fit on one piece of paper, move a graphic or change styles, all on the fly and while seeing how changes will affect the output. You can even edit data or formulas.
One final cool thing added to Apple iWork '08 is the way Apple Numbers '08 integrates with the Mac's Address Book. You can drag individual contacts or groups into a sheet and they automatically format as a table. Or, you can create a table and name the column headers to match specific fields in Address Book; when you drag contacts to that table, it will fill with only those pieces of contact information. It's a perfect way to manage contact lists, guest lists, mailing lists and even invoices.
Overall, Apple Numbers '08 can truly be thought of as the spreadsheet for the rest of us. It may not be perfect for replacing Excel in every situation, particularly in corporate environments that rely on specific functions that are not included in Apple Numbers '08. But for home users and small businesses, it is a great and inspiring tool and is alone more than worth Apple iWork '08's £54 price tag.
Users comfortable with Microsoft Office may find it takes time to get used to Apple iWork '08. Advanced Word and Excel users, especially those who rely on specialised features and functions, will probably find Apple Pages '08 and Apple Numbers '08 to be limited. If you do rely on specific functions in Microsoft Excel or features in any of the Microsoft Office applications that are even slightly outside the more general types of usage, you will probably want to download the Apple iWork '08 30-day trial to ensure that the tools you need are there before buying. And, to be sure, the process of having to export files when interacting with Microsoft Office users could get old quickly if you have to do that regularly. But overall, Apple iWork '08 is beautifully designed - a compelling product and great value for consumers and small business alike. It brings tons of innovation over previous versions of Apple iWork as well as many office suites on the market. And it turns typical office tasks and documents into creative outlets. That it offers all that it does for £54 is, frankly, hard to believe.