Last week, I tried importing a CSV file with over two million rows to Apple Numbers. Unfortunately, I failed. In fact, my MacBook crashed so badly that I had to force restart it.
For years, I have been using Apple Numbers for basic spreadsheet analysis. However, it wasn’t until I encountered this issue that I realized its limitations.
Even though Apple Numbers is one of the top spreadsheet platforms, it has more limitations in place than Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets. So, if you’re someone who plays around with big data a lot, Apple Numbers may not be the right fit for you.
In this blog post, we’ll dive deep into the limitations of Apple Numbers and try to understand why the spreadsheet platform has them in place. Alongside this, we’ll be looking at how Gigasheet, our big data cloud spreadsheet platform, helps solve these limitations without requiring you to set up and use a database.
So, without further ado, let’s get started.
As of this writing, there’s no official documentation from Apple regarding the limitations of Apple Numbers. So, I went through hundreds of discussions related to the same on Apple Community. At the same time, I reached out to Apple Support to know more about the limitations of Apple Numbers.
And here’s what I found out.
As stated by Apple Support, the maximum number of rows in a single sheet in Apple Numbers is one million. So, it makes sense that Apple Numbers was unable to import my spreadsheet file with over two million rows.
As mentioned by Apple Support, “if you're trying to import a spreadsheet with 2 million rows, you'll need to split it into smaller files or use a different spreadsheet application (Gigasheet’s the answer) that can handle larger data sets.”
But for me, this information wasn’t enough.
I wanted to know more.
So, I hopped onto a call with the Apple Support team. As there’s no official documentation on this, they were also struggling to fetch me this information. After my call was transferred more than five times, I found out that Apple Numbers’ maximum column limit is 1,000. This means, you can only have up to 1,000 columns of data in a single sheet. But I wanted to make sure this was the case – so I created over 1,000 columns in Apple Sheets – and I was able to do so.
However, when I tried to create the 1,001st column, I got nothing.
This means, the maximum cell limit is 1,000 x 1,000,000 = 1,000,000,000 cells. Also, I discovered that there’s no limit to the number of characters inside a cell. However, my MacBook crashed after I added 200K+ characters inside a single cell.
Even though the maximum row limit is one million and the column limit is 1,000, Apple Numbers may not be able to handle large datasets that don’t exceed these limitations. That’s because the performance of Apple Numbers decreases as the number of rows and columns increase. At the same time, the more is the number of formulas you apply, the higher will be the consumed computer energy.
Also, as mentioned by Apple Support, Numbers also has a limit of 250 sheets per document, so if you’re working with complex documents – you need to keep this in mind.
Last but not least, Apple Numbers can import .csv and .xlsx files; however, not many formats are supported by it.
Even though Apple Numbers is one of the best and most widely used spreadsheet platforms, I’m shocked to see that Apple hasn’t rolled out any relevant documentation (as of this writing) related to its technical specifications.
Aside Gigasheet, there’s no spreadsheet platform in place that can handle millions or billions of rows of data. To process and analyze this data, you probably will have to use a database. This means, if you are not a technical person, you may face a hard time analyzing big data.
But why exactly do platforms like Apple Numbers have these limitations in place?
That’s because Apple Numbers, just like any downloadable spreadsheet application, stores data in a two-dimensional array. Each cell in the array is represented as a memory address and requires a fixed amount of memory.
When working with datasets, Apple Numbers uses virtual memory to manage memory usage. Virtual memory allows the computer to use a portion of the hard disk as if it were memory. However, using virtual memory can significantly impact performance, as accessing data on the hard disk is much slower than accessing data in physical memory.
To avoid these performance issues, spreadsheet applications like Apple Numbers have to put a limit on the amount of data they can handle.
Do Microsoft Excel & Google Sheets handle big data?
This brings us to our BIG question:
To get around Apple Numbers’ limitations, it’s advisable to use either a database or a big data cloud spreadsheet like Gigasheet. The problem with a database, as mentioned earlier, is that it’s too hard to set up or use one for a non-technical person.
That’s one of the problems we solve at Gigasheet.
Gigasheet is a big data cloud spreadsheet platform that supports and can process spreadsheets with billions of rows. At the same time, it doesn’t matter if your spreadsheet file exceeds 100 GB, Gigasheet can easily handle it.
Recently, I performed an experiment where I tested the limits of Gigasheet by uploading a gigantic 140+ GB spreadsheet file. And trust me on this one, Gigasheet knocked it out of the park. I recommend trying it out for yourself.
But that’s not all.
If you’re looking to narrow down or arrange your data using filters and groups, or maybe even enrich it, Gigasheet offers several advanced features which you can tap into for no additional costs.
Or if you’re not yet ready to sign up, you can see Gigasheet in action here: