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iPad spreadsheet Permanent doesn't really add up

Rob Griffiths | March 21, 2013
Permanent is a new spreadsheet-ish app for the iPad. As something of a spreadsheet junkie, I was excited to see an alternative entrant in this rather staid marketplace. And "alternative" really is the proper word, for Permanent is unlike any spreadsheet you've ever used. Diving in, I was really hoping to love this app, to see real progress in the niche that is spreadsheets. Alas, it was not to be.

Those aren't the only controls that are finicky: Want to enter a formula that refers to other cells? Type it out; if you tap another cell while entering a formula, Permanent ends the edit and takes you to that cell. Think you can use pinch to zoom/unzoom your view, as in most any iPad app? Nope; pinch and unpinch do nothing in Permanent's spreadsheet view.

If you want to rearrange your columns, you can't tap-and-hold to drag them around. Instead, you tap the column header once, then tap buttons in the header to insert, for instance, columns to the left or right of your selection. There are no column delete buttons, however. Even worse, when I inserted columns, the cell references in my formulas didn't change--I had to manually edit them to point to the newly-moved cells.

For a spreadsheet built specifically for a touch-based UI, I found the touch experience confusing and unintuitive.

Other areas don't fare much better, even with unique features that could be winners. Permanent's Undo browser, for instance, lets you step back in time, hundreds of steps if necessary. However, finding exactly what you want to undo can be time consuming and visually intimidating.

Geeks will also appreciate the inclusion of the full Lua scripting language, but this won't be appealing to a mainstream audience.

The bottom line

Permanent's App Store page lays out a nice roadmap for the app's future feature additions. However, at $10, the asking price is incredibly steep for what's actually delivered today. I think there's an interesting model here, and it definitely could work well if the authors can deliver on their promises.

As it stands now, though, I can't recommend Permanent to anyone, unless you're interested in supporting the company's efforts, or you're a Lua programmer looking to write some code on an iPad. For everyone else, the best advice is to wait and see what this app may become.


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