I'm not an accountant so spreadsheets aren't my life, but like most people in the office environment I have used Excel before. So creating a spreadsheet on the iPad should be a snap, just buy Apple's spreadsheet app, Numbers, and your set -- right? Yes and, uh, no. Using Numbers is pretty easy, but it is not a traditional spreadsheet. Here are some tips to help you get the job done.
When you first start the Numbers app, the Spreadsheets screen appears. Tap the (+) icon to create a new document.
You now see a bunch of templates that Apple gives you as start points. You can see even in the thumbnails that the documents look more like finished reports with an embedded spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is actually live just put in your data and any charts automatically update. You can also change the report text and graphics to match your needs. Look through the templates to see if any of them will give you a head start on your project. My needs are pretty simple I just want to start off with a blank field of empty cells almost as if I'm starting a document in Microsoft Excel. Tap the first Blank template.
At first glance this template looks pretty close to a blank Excel document--except there seems to ne a limited number of cell columns (it only appears this way) and the right column is already configured to have labels. If you use the zoom out using the pinch gesture you can see all the cell table on screen. Zoom-in to see parts of the table. Tap and drag to pan within your work area. Notice that the top and left headers always appear when you are idle.
Tapping on a cell within the table allows you to modify those objects but not enter data into them. Double tapping a cell will put you into data entry mode, but here is the first tip. Hold off the data entry until after you have setup your table the way you want. Switching between data entry and configuration/viewing modes is awkward and slow. Doing all the data entry at once will save time.
Modifying the Table
Zoom-out so you can see all of the data table, and select a cell. Now you can see additional controls that allow you to modify the table and select a range of cells.
Tapping and dragging the round icon with a single interior dot will allow you to move the entire table. Doing the same to the upper-right and lower-left round icons will add/remove columns and rows to the table.
Tapping and dragging on the blue dots on the selected cell allow you to select multiple cells.
Tapping grey bars between the round table icons will allow you to select a row or column. It will then highlight in blue.
Tap, dragging the two divot marks in the blue header will let you resize the column width or row height. Drag the blue dots to select multiple rows or column.
Tapping the paint brush icon will modify an objects properties. You can add headers, resize the table, and change data formats.
Double tapping a cell will put you in data entry mode (the keyboard appears). The Numbers app uses four types of soft keyboards, which you can switch between using icons before the cursor data line. The text version (T icon) is the standard iOS keyboard. The numbers keyboard (42) has a number pad plus ratings and checkbox entry. Data (clock) gives you buttons tuned for date/time entry. Finally the calculations keyboard (=) allow you to build formula for data Numbers will produce for you (most people only use sums for totals).
When you finish entering data into a cell don't tap done or the green check icon. Just tap on the Next buttons or tap on a cell in the table. That way you don't leave data entry mode. If you tap Done, you'll have to double tap a cell again to get back in entry mode.
Let the App Do the Work (Fill Command)
You don't have to enter all the data manually. If you have a bunch of repeating values, use the Fill command. To do this enter in the data in one cell (like zero here). Tap Done. Tap the cell again until the cut and paste bar appears. Tap Fill. The cell will highlight in yellow.
Drag the highlight bar over the cell you want the data to fill in.
Fill also works with a series of data. It doesn't have to be numbers. Enter in January and February in two cells of the header. Then select those cells.
As before select Fill in the cut and paste bar and fill in the data over the header.
Put Totals in a Footer
I like to put total calculations in Footers. If you do this the totals will automatically update when you add new rows. Since the totals are anchored in the table it is also easier to use them in other calculations.
Below is our data table filled in.
Add a footer to the table by tapping the Paint Brush icon.
In the newly created footer add a SUM calculation in the first cell.
Use the Fill command over the other cells of the footer.
Add another line of the data and you can see the totals automatically update.
Creating data charts is pretty standard. Select the cells you want to include in the chart.
Tap "Create Chart."
Select the chart type. Swiping left or right will switch color schemes. I'll go for 3D pie chart. You can rotate the chart in any direction, and pull out a wedge.
Tap the (+) icon next to the Paint Brush icon to add other objects like text, graphics, photos... You can make a fancy report all in Numbers. All with live data.
Cut and Paste
Like all of Apple's iWork apps, Numbers accepts content copied from other apps. You can add logos, graphics and clip art from drawing apps like iDraw, inkPad, and TouchDraw. Transparent PNGs in your camera roll also work.
Tap the Wrench icon on the upper right to share your spreadsheet. Under "Share and Print", Email Spreadsheet will allow you to send it as a PDF or Excel (Numbers' own format as well, but most won't be able to use it). Using the "Open in Another App" will also let you upload those formats to Dropbox using its own app or other file sharing apps. Considering the size and variety of the App Store this option brings all kinds of options for your iPad.