Apple Freeform: everything you need to know

With more people working from home and attending online classes, digital whiteboards are becoming more and more popular. For this reason, we are thrilled about the Apple Freeform app. Here’s everything you need to know.

The canvas

The dotted canvas is excellent. If you’d rather work on a plain background, you have the option to hide the grid. We also like that as you zoom in and out, Freeform displays the percentage of your zoom and that it automatically snaps to 100%. It snaps on multiple levels, too, which is useful.

Handwriting tools

Your handwriting tools are the same as those in Pages, KeyNote, and Numbers. They, therefore, look and feel familiar. Freeform also borrowed the shapes tool,  which has different categories of shapes you can add to your canvas. The only problem is that you’re limited to using these if you want decent shapes in the app. You can’t simply sketch a shape and have it magically transformed, like we get in other apps. We expected more because such a shapes tool means working faster in the app. Adding shapes takes too much effort for a digital workflow.

Text tool

You can add text boxes to your canvas. Your text can be any colour you want. However, we continue to run into the same issue we have with Apple apps: we can’t modify the default colours on the toolbar. Using custom colours requires a lot of unnecessary steps. You can do the following with your text:

  • Format to make it bold, italic, or underlined.
  • Align 
  • Turn into lists: dashed, numbered, or bulleted.
  • Customise the font 

Items you can add

Sticky notes

You can add sticky notes to your canvas. What’s a whiteboard without sticky notes? These come in a few different colours to select from. You can’t really complain. Custom colours would be wonderful, but are they necessary? You can align your text to the centre, top, or bottom of your sticky notes. They also have all the text options you have on your text boxes. Sadly, handwritten notes don’t stick to the sticky notes (that would have been cool).

Scans, photos & videos

You can scan documents directly onto the canvas using the iPadOS 16 scanning engine. You can also add photos from the Photos library or take one with your camera. For both your scans and photos, you can quickly replace them. It helps when you pick the wrong file. Cropping your images is easy.

You can add shadows to your images. Some images look better with shadows, others don’t. There is also an option to make the edges rounded. Our favourite feature is the ability to add videos of any length and, apparently, any size. The largest video we’ve added so far was about 4 GB. Your videos play inline, without having to leave the whiteboard. How cool is that! If you want to play the videos in full screen, of course you can do that. Videos have similar editing features to those you have for your photos.

Links & other files

You can add links to your canvas, and the app creates a beautiful web clips. A whiteboard works with a lot of visuals, so it makes sense to turn them into web clips. The Freeform app also lets you add any file to your notes: zip, PDF, .pptx, .docx, etc. You can open these to read, but you get no Markup tools; those would have been awesome for PDFs especially.

Editing items on the canvas

Everything on the canvas can be edited. The lasso tool can only select and pick up handwriting. Let’s hope in the future it’ll be able to at least select everything on the canvas. You can do the following with each item on the page, your handwritten notes included:

  • Duplicate
  • Resize
  • Rotate
  • Delete
  • Copy/cut and paste
  • Move to the front or back of other items.
  • Lock to prevent from moving or further editing
  • Add a description for improved accessibility
  • Copy and paste styles between similar items

You can edit one, or select multiple items at once. Grouping them together makes it easier to move them around in relation to each other. You can even align the items, which we haven’t really found that useful at the moment.

Collaboration

For remote teams such as ours, it’s important to brainstorm at the same time. Unfortunately, at the moment, we’ve been able to edit and see the changes others make, but it hasn’t been in real time. That’s probably a bug that needs ironing out. While collaborating, you can quickly get onto an audio or video call with your colleagues to discuss the ideas you’re putting together.

Like with collaboration in any other Apple app, you give your colleagues permission to make changes and add other people. To complete this collaboration experience, we hope to see commenting and change tracking.

Organisation

On the homepage, you only get smart folders for your recent, shared, and favourite boards. We can’t group our boards into folders yet, and we look forward to having that ability. Using groups is an available option, but we’re still working on what that entails. Your boards can display as thumbnails or lists according to date or name.

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