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Microsoft Adds Key Features to Excel for iPad

Sep 10th 2014
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Earlier this year I wrote about my mixed feelings on Excel for iPad's debut. My closing sentence for that article read "The early iterations of Microsoft products tend to have rough edges that get smoothed out with time." I'm no Nostradamus, but my instincts were correct, as in the intervening months Microsoft has added some key elements to Excel for iPad.

When Excel for iPad first arrived, there wasn't any way to print documents from your iPad. Microsoft immediately rushed out a 1.0.1 patch that added this ability. The latest versions expanded on that capability. If you're like me and tend to let app updates accumulate on your iPad, make sure to at least install the Excel for iPad 1.2 update. The 1.1 update recently added a raft of new features, while a few days later the 1.2 update provides bug fixes. Here's what you'll gain when you install the latest update:

  • Pivot table functionality. In the first incarnation, pivot tables were literally trapped under glass, meaning you could only scroll the data around on the screen. Now, although the workbook must already contain a pivot table before opening it using the app, you have the capability to expand, collapse, filter, and even refresh pivot tables, as shown in Figure 1. The caveat on refreshing is that the source data must be within the same workbook as the pivot table.
  • Email documents as PDF. Previously, Excel spreadsheets could only be emailed in their native format, but you can now email spreadsheets in PDF form. Figure 2 walks you through the steps.
  • External keyboard support. Using an external keyboard allows you to use the same navigation and data entry techniques that you do in the desktop-based versions of Excel. I don't presently own an external keyboard for my iPad, but this capability is making me consider getting one.
  • Flick to select. You'll quickly wish for this innovative feature in the desktop versions of Excel. Flick a cell's selection handle in any direction to automatically select all data in that row or column for a contiguous area of the spreadsheet. It's a huge advance in using Excel on a touch-enabled device.
  • Third-party fonts. You can now access third-party fonts installed on your iPad in the Excel app.
  • Picture tools.  Excel for iPad now supports in-app picture editing.

Figure 1: The Excel for iPad app now allows you to interact with Pivot Tables.

Figure 2: You can now e-mail spreadsheets in PDF form.

If you missed the free High Impact Excel: iPad Edition webinar earlier this summer, you can watch a free recording. During the presentation I demonstrated many of the key features of Excel for iPad, and discussed some of its quirks. Do keep in mind that the presentation was created prior to the 1.1 version of Excel, so a few of my complaints, such as interactivity with pivot tables, have subsequently been resolved.

More updates are on the horizon. In the inaugural blog post Microsoft promised "continuous engineering, where updates and improvements just keep coming…in weeks, not years." I'd say that Microsoft is keeping their promise so far, and I look forward to Excel for iPad becoming a stronger and better tool.

About the author:

David H. Ringstrom, CPA, heads up Accounting Advisors, Inc., an Atlanta-based software and database consulting firm providing training and consulting services nationwide. Contact David at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter. David speaks at conferences about Microsoft Excel, teaches webcasts for CPE Link, and writes freelance articles on Excel for AccountingWEB, Going Concern,


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By Chartcube
Jun 25th 2015 20:11 EDT

Good analysis, David. One must wonder, however, whether the mere addition of these initially-absent features is really going to make life easier for users. Frankly, we're skeptical that anyone will find joy working with cells, rows, columns and keyboard entry on the iPad. Maybe bringing that desktop-based Excel UI paradigm to a touch device is a mistake. The idea that there might be a way to work meaningfully with data on an iPad without these is very, very exciting:

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