Numbers for Mac has always occupied an awkward position. It’s
not powerful enough to replace Excel or Google Sheets for many
business purposes, and it’s designed partly to be an
interaction, quantitative-information presentation tool.
Numbers for iOS had even more of a bias towards presentation
until the latest update brought it a little more power.
However, Apple keeps pushing forward, and Numbers 5 for Mac has only a single significant
change that Apple mostly underplayed, as most of the changes
improve feature parity and seamless interchange between Numbers
for Mac and iOS, while also making the apps more consistent
with Pages (Mac
iOS) and Keynote (Mac
Numbers 5: New features
The big macOS change is relatively boring but very practical:
the ability to import field-based data exports from databases,
apps, and web services. Until now, Numbers lacked any useful
way to control how it parses information that needs to be
plopped into columns and rows. You relied on whatever defaults
and assumptions Apple made. If your data didn’t conform and you
couldn’t modify the output of whatever program app or service
you used to meet it, you’d have to manipulate your exported
data in yet another piece of software.
That’s now in the past with Import Settings, an option that
appears when you click Adjust Settings after you open a text
file that has formatted data in it, whether it’s in
comma-separated values (CSV) format or a fixed-width text
format. Technically, you don’t even have to use CSV format any
more, as you can adjust to use tabs, spaces, semicolons, or a
The Adjust Settings button is a little bit irritating, as it
appears very briefly. The moment you engage with the
spreadsheet, it disappears, and you have to re-import the file
to get the option back.
Import Settings also appears when you paste text into Numbers.
Previously, you had to rely on Numbers automatically
interpreting and massaging that import, although it tended to
do better with pasted text than text in a formatted file. I
tested copying a variety of tables from Web pages into Safari,
and Import Settings definitely provided far better results.
However, Numbers 5 no longer handles certain formatting and
wrapping issues correctly when pasting that the previous
release did. If you commonly copy and paste from a browser, you
may find Numbers 5 adds a text-massaging intermediate stage, or
at least until Apple releases an update or adds additional
As with updates to the other iWork apps, Numbers gets donut
charts, new insertable shapes that can be edited, and support
for collaborative editing via the third-party Box
document-sharing service. And Apple offers a way to reduce
storage consumed by audio, video, and images embedded in the
document by opting to downsample or use more efficient formats
(via File > Reduce File Size).
Though seemingly a little out of place, you can also insert an
image gallery into a Numbers sheet, just as in Pages, although
you can only move through these images within a Numbers
document. There’s no way to export it for interactivity.
Numbers 5 for Mac advances the app, making it more useful for
more purposes with less effort, but it’s still a shadow of
full-feature business spreadsheet programs. Nonetheless, the
set of improvements in the macOS and iOS versions make your
work easier in shifting back and forth and getting the most out
of the numeric and presentation sides of the software.