Whither or wither Spreadsheets?
Adding my voice to the many past considering the future direction for spreadsheets…
Good question! Well it follows from the thoughts in an earlier post about user interfaces, and I am an avid user of spreadsheets and numerical modelling tools
And what does “spreadsheet” mean anyway? It doesn’t spread anything? Not like a “word processor” processes words
The term is related to an archaic way of keeping your accounts, on a big analysis sheet. I used to get them from Stores when I was a young engineer, and we would use them as desk covers, to scribble random notes, hold our coffee cups, but never added a number up on one (we had already moved from slide rules to calculators with memories, maybe one or two). You can still buy analysis sheets at Ryman (or maybe you can’t, if you use analysis sheets you might not have a computer…or Interweb)
Why are you so angry? Get out of my post!
So what should spreadsheets look like in a touch world with rich mobile clients on tablets?
Aside; I once tried a fully laptop-less day out with just an iPaq, Excel Mobile and virtual laser keyboard. Suffice it to say what with a bouncy train, small tray table and tiny screen I did no useful work that day! (well it was a corporate karting day so I did some bonding instead…)
Excel and similar don’t really work on a small screen, and even in the touch enabled Office 2013 instantiation the interface is just too clunky, and the analysis pad metaphor becomes less appropriate for useful modelling, when you only have fingers and the on-screen keyboard takes up most of your screen real estate making formula entry a royal pain.
Also spreadsheets do just spread… so you need all the screen you can get. I have a two screen setup with combined width of nearly a metre. That’s 350 thousand square millimetres, right there, just for numbers…
Looking at developments you now have hipster ‘sheets like Grid. So hip, in fact, it does not do any calculations!
Lets just step out of the room for a moment and imagine how that VC pitch went…
- Pitcher: I’ve got this great idea for a new spreadsheet
- VC guy: OK. Tell me something good about it.
- Pitcher: Well, it’s a grid thing that you can put numbers and text into so that you can organise the page really well…like, in straight lines up and down and across the page…
- VC Guy: So…it’s a table…
- Pitcher: (breathlessly, jumping up and down in seat) And what is really exciting is that you can paste pictures of all your friends into it too!
- VC Guy: So…how do you add up pictures then? (Said languidly but with a raised eyebrow; you see VC guy does know spreadsheets)
- Pitcher: Oh, it doesn’t do any calculations, but you can put pictures of your friends it!
- VC Guy: So…it’s a table…tell me something that is great about it…
- Pitcher: You can put pictures of your friends in it!
- VC Guy: So…tell me something else great about it
- Pitcher: Mrmrmmble…you can put pictures of your friends in it…
- VC Guy: So…WHAT? (stands up, preparing to throw Pitcher into a nearby pit of hungry wolves)
- Pitcher: Did I say it runs on an iPad?
- VC Guy: Brilliant! I’m in, put me down for $25 million! (choir of angels sings, sunshine beams down from the sky)
Well maybe, then maybe not, but we can wonder
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Anago Assemble which has the modelling studio interface down pat (pat-ented, too, according to the website), but it is a previous generation web-only, non-touch system and comes with consulting attached, and no downloadable version.
So a touch “spreadsheet” might actually look something like this scribble below…
…with two views: a model view where you can fondle and dab to make set up the calculations with some nice radial menus, finger friendly szzyzzhing and szzuzzhing of the on-screen objects, carousel effects, and such like, and a page view where you position the output displays (cue more szzyzzhing and szzuzzhing)…but overall it would have to be different, of course, from any patented concepts, which makes it harder…
Not really like the spreadsheets of old, though. Nuff said.
Well not really, one last thing, just down the page here is a whacky idea which is only very peripherally related to the topic of this post and that I once sent to Mindjet in a geeky outburst to help them add a new feature to Mind Manager…a sort of pivot table for Mind Maps. It would probably have Tony Buzan turning in his grave, but it did get a bee out of my bonnet. You saw it here first, everybody will want this…