Getting Started With Numbers for iCloud

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While Microsoft’s Excel is undoubtedly the king of spreadsheet apps, it is expensive and difficult to use. Apple’s Numbers has long been an easier to use, and equally functional, competitor. With the launch of the iWork for iCloud beta last year, Numbers is now available, for free, in almost every modern browser just by signing in with an Apple ID.

Apple brings the polish you’d expect to their web apps–even though they are nominally in beta. Whilst other online documents suites, such as Google Docs and Zoho’s offerings, feel like applications running in a browser, Apple’s iWork for iCloud suite feel just like regular apps.

In the previous two tutorials I showed how to get started with Keynote for iCloud and Pages for iCloud

In this tutorial I’ll take the same approach–you will learn how to set up a new Numbers document, input data and use formulae to perform mathematical operations. I’m going to demonstrate all these features with a simple project which will teach the tools and tricks you need to get started with Numbers for iCloud.

By following along, you will understand enough to be able to adapt what you learn to creating your own spreadsheets in Numbers.

Introducing Numbers for iCloud

Numbers for iCloud is simply Numbers in the browser. It contains almost all the features of the full application except it runs in Safari, Chrome or Internet Explorer version 9 and above. 

You’re not limited to accessing the iWork for iCloud suite from a Mac–you can even use a PC. Documents created in Numbers for iCloud are synced with all your devices that have Numbers installed and, if you save the documents to iCloud, vice versa.

The iWork for iCloud suite is completely free with an iCloud account–which comes free with all modern Apple devices. You will be prompted to set one up when you set up a new OS X or iOS device though if you don’t already have one, you can set one up on by logging in with an Apple ID.

Creating a New Spreadsheet

Go to the iCloud website and log in with an iCloud account. This tutorial is focussed on Numbers for iCloud so click on the Numbers icon to launch the web app. Any Numbers documents you have saved to iCloud on your Mac or iOS device will appear here.

To create a new spreadsheet, click the Create Spreadsheet icon. While the templates in Keynote for iCloud and Pages for iCloud offer different ways to display the same information, the templates in Numbers for iCloud are preconfigured spreadsheets, all with a different purpose. If you want to create a personal budget, conduct a break-even analysis, compare different loans or many other simple spreadsheet tasks, then you’ll find a theme that meets your needs. 

For this tutorial I'm going to focus on the basics of using Numbers for iCloud so select the Blank template and click Choose. This will open a new document in the browser to begin working on.

A few of Numbers for iCloud's available template.

Setting Up a Spreadsheet

The default Numbers for iCloud spreadsheet has a single header column, a single header row, eight regular columns and twenty-one regular rows. Most of the time, these values will be totally wrong for what you want to do.

The default view.

The simplest way to change the number of columns and rows is to drag on one of the handles at the end of the coordinate bars–and in the bottom right of the spreadsheet. Dragging them to the right adds more columns and dragging them down adds more rows.

You can also add more columns and rows, and insert them between ones that already exist, by two-finger-clicking on the coordinate bars and selecting Add Column Above/Below and Add Row Before/After. You can also remove rows and columns by selecting Delete instead.

Finally, you can add more rows by pressing Return when you have a cell in the bottom row selected – this makes it easy to add rows as you keep adding data. For this tutorial you need two columns and twelve rows as well as the header column and row; using one of the methods above set your spreadsheet table to that size.

To change the appearance of the spreadsheet table, select the Table tab in the Format Panel on the righthand side of the screen. There you can select from one of six different preset colour designs, add headers and footers, change the font size, assign an alternating row colour and rename the table. 

I am going to leave things as they are for this tutorial but if you are designing a spreadsheet for presenting to other people it is worth exploring the different formatting options available to you.

While the Table tab deals with the global settings, the Cell tab determines the appearance of one, or more, individual cells. Select as many cells as you want to edit–press Command-A if you want to edit them all–and then assign whatever style settings you want. Again, I am going to leave things as they are.

Tip: You never need to save your work. iCloud does it automatically after you do anything.

Adding Data

I’m going to create a simple spreadsheet that calculates the average word count and number of tutorial images of my last ten Tuts+ tutorials. To calculate the average, first add the data so Numbers for iCloud has something to work with.

Click on a cell and start typing to add data to it manually. When you’re done, press Return to accept what you’ve added and move down to the next row. To edit a cell you’ve already added data to, double-click on it.

For this tutorial you need to title the three columns Article, Word Count, and Image Count. Do this in the header column. Next, add the titles of my ten most recent articles to the header row. Finally, add their word and image counts. Rather than calculate the information yourself, enter in the data from the image below.

The data in my Numbers for iCloud spreadsheet.

In the bottom row, add Averages to the header row. To make things look more visually appealing, you can merge the two cells that are blank. Select them both, two-finger-click and choose Merge Cells .

Getting Started With Functions

The true power of any spreadsheet app lies in the functions that you can use to perform operations on the data you add. In Numbers for iCloud you can create your own functions or use the library of powerful built in functions. 

I’m only going to touch on the absolute basics of what you can do with functions in Numbers for iCloud so that you can get started using it quickly. My colleague, Alex, has written two tutorials that go into more detail on basic and intermediate formulae focussing on the Mac version–almost everything in his tutorials can be applied to Numbers for iCloud as well.

Functions in Numbers for iCloud work based on cell values. A cell’s value is the combination of it’s column and row coordinates. For example, all the cells in the first column are A1, A2, A3 and so on. In the second column they are B1, B2 and B3 instead. When you create, or call, a function in Numbers, you do it based on the cell’s value rather than its contents.

I’m going to have the average word count be calculated in cell B13. I could manually create this function, however, Numbers for iCloud has a built in AVERAGE function that is exactly what I am looking for. 

To find the average word count, select cell B13 and press =. This activates the Function Input dialogue and the Functions Panel. The simplest way to call the average function is to search for it in the Functions Panel.

Adding a function to my Numbers for iCloud spreadsheet.

Enter average in the search bar, select AVERAGE from the results and then click Insert Function. Now define the range of cells for which the function will calculate the mean. The easiest way to do this is to use your cursor to click-and-drag from cell B2 to cell B11

You can see that this automatically adds that range of cells to the function. Press Return to accept what you have done.

Searching for the AVERAGE function.

Tip: The average is updated dynamically so if you go in and edit the word count values, the average value will be updated to reflect any changes.

Selecting the range of cells the function uses.

Calculate the average number of images per post. You could do this by repeating the steps above but I want to show a quicker way. If you are performing the same operation on a number of different rows or columns, you only have to enter the function manually once. 

If you select cell B13, a little white dot appears in the bottom right corner. Drag that dot over to cell C13. This copies the function in B13 and pastes it in C13–however, all the B values in the function are updated to C values so the result is the average number of images per post.

The final spreadsheet with the two averages automatically calculated.

iCloud Collaboration

All the iWork for iCloud applications are designed with collaboration in mind. While in Keynote for iCloud and Pages for iCloud this is a useful feature that lets more than one person contribute to a document–in Numbers for iCloud it opens up a whole new range of ways you can use the app. 

Numbers for iCloud’s usefulness is entirely dependant on the data you give it. It is a powerful program when one person is adding data, however, if a group of people are all adding data, you can do some interesting things. 

For example, you could set up a family budget spreadsheet for everyone to add to that calculates what each family member has spent and their weekly and monthly average spendings.

To share a Numbers for iCloud spreadsheet, click on the Share Icon in the top right of the document and then select Share Spreadsheet. A dialogue box will appear with a link to send to the people you want to share the spreadsheet with. 

You can change whether they are able to edit the spreadsheet or just view it. You can also add a password for additional security. If at any point you want to stop sharing the spreadsheet, simply click the Stop Sharing button.

The Numbers for iCloud Share dialogue box.


In this tutorial I’ve shown you the very basics of Numbers for iCloud and how to get started using it. While Keynote for iCloud and Pages for iCloud are simple and beautiful applications that exist to fulfil a single role, Numbers for iCloud is a far more powerful program–that still retains the simplicity and beauty of the other apps. 

I have merely scratched the surface of what can be done with Numbers for iCloud. It is a fully featured spreadsheet application that allows people to collaboratively add data–this actually gives Numbers for iCloud more possible uses than the offline versions!

This is the end of my series on the iWork for iCloud suite. If you’ve used any of the applications I’ve featured over the last three tutorials I’d love to hear what you thought of them. Please let me know in the comments.