Spreadsheet Data Entry — iPad 1, Tablet PC Zip

Numbers entry formulas

A lot has been written about the iPad and slates in general, typically detailing the leisure activities that this type of device does well. It’s common knowledge that slates are good at content consumption — reading e-books, watching video and the like. Fun activities are great but sometimes it’s necessary to do some real work. Nothing says work like dealing with spreadsheets, pushing numbers around the screen and making sense of them. The Tablet PC from Microsoft should be good at spreadsheets, after all they created Excel that is top dog in the corporate world. Sadly, using Excel on a Tablet PC is horrible, and with Numbers it looks like Apple has beaten Microsoft at its own game, and on the first try with the iPad.

I worked for many years as a consultant, and spent more time in Excel spreadsheets than I care to remember. I used a Tablet PC for all of those years, all day every day, and trying to work in spreadsheets was so painful it gives me the creeps, even today. You would think that Microsoft, having developed both the Tablet PC and Excel, would have optimized the user experience to make it all work together seamlessly. Unfortunately, they not only didn’t do that, what they produced yielded a horrible environment for getting the work done.

Kevin pointed out the new demo videos that Apple has produced to show off different capabilities of the iPad. They are well done and typical of how Apple shows off a product. Out of all the iPad videos, the Numbers demo caught my eye given my history with spreadsheets on the Tablet PC. I watched the Number video spell-bound. I confess I have watched that video five more times, and I am still blown away by Apple’s method for data entry in a Numbers spreadsheet.

The iPad is touch input only, at least without a wireless keyboard at play. That requires a solid touch data entry process to make working with the Numbers spreadsheet a pleasant experience, and not the exercise in frustration that Excel on a Tablet PC becomes.

The Numbers demo video shows how Apple approached this need, and it looks absolutely incredible. Work in a spreadsheet cell consisting of numbers, and the iPad produces a number entry system. Want to work with a text cell, you get a QWERTY entry method. Need to enter a date/time entry? You get a system optimized to make that easy. No matter what you need to do in Numbers on the iPad, it senses the best way for you to do so and presents that method automatically.

If Apple can do this with version 1.0, why couldn’t Microsoft do this over all the years the Tablet PC has been around? Why has Microsoft still not done this? It’s sad, even embarrassing that they haven’t cared enough to make something like this from Apple. It’s been said in the past that the Office team and Tablet PC team at Microsoft were not working together to make their respective products better for the user. If that’s true then shame on Microsoft.

Want to compare data entry using Numbers on the iPad with Excel on a Windows 7 Tablet PC? Take a look and see why I am not happy with Microsoft for the hundreds of hours I struggled to get my Excel work done on the Tablet PC.


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