Freeform Leverages the Freedom and Flexibility of a Clean Canvas


Freeform is a model new iPhone, iPad, and Mac app from Apple that lets customers create multimedia boards on an infinite canvas that embrace textual content, photographs, drawings, hyperlinks, recordsdata, and extra. It’s an bold entry right into a crowded class of apps that take overlapping approaches, emphasizing every thing from note-taking to collaborative design to whiteboarding.

As is so typically the case with Apple’s system apps, Freeform falls squarely in the midst of the panorama of current apps. Freeform isn’t going to exchange apps which can be deeply targeted on a slender section of apps within the clean canvas class. As an alternative, Freeform is focused at a broader viewers, lots of whom have in all probability by no means even thought of utilizing this kind of app. For them, and for anybody who has felt constrained by extra linear, text-based methods of exploring concepts, Freeform is an ideal answer.

At first blush, Freeform’s spare interface could give the impression that it’s a bare-bones 1.0 launch, however that’s not the case. The app is simple to make use of and impressively feature-rich for a brand new launch. So, let’s dig into the small print to see what it could do.

A Non-Linear Method

For those who’ve spent a lot time in Apple Notes, you’ll instantly see that Freeform shares a lot of its DNA. Each deal with textual content, drawings, hyperlinks, and recordsdata in comparable methods. The similarities will make Freeform really feel acquainted to Notes customers, but it surely’s the variations the place issues get attention-grabbing.

Freeform handles lots of the identical varieties of media as Notes, however Notes is strictly a linear text-first affair. In distinction, Freeform takes an object-based strategy that liberates customers from the construction of textual content, permitting them to position parts wherever on the app’s canvas, which it refers to as a board.

Boards and Objects

On the iPad and Mac, Freeform’s doc view makes use of its sidebar to divide the boards you create into 4 collections: All Boards, Recents, Shared, and Favorites. Deciding on a set shows its boards on the suitable, the place the toolbar permits customers to view boards as icons or an inventory that may be optionally grouped by the date they had been final edited, a function that was added to Notes in Apple’s fall OS updates, and sorted by both date or title.

The app’s toolbar can also be the place you possibly can create a brand new board, choose a number of boards for duplication or deletion, and seek for a board. Search returns outcomes for textual content discovered within the title of your board and contained in the doc, but it surely doesn’t return outcomes primarily based on the contents of recordsdata added to your board or the textual content in photographs.

The iPhone’s interface is much like the iPad and Mac variations however with the sidebar occupying its personal display screen and a few toolbar gadgets hidden behind a three-dot menu button.

It’s additionally price noting that on the Mac, there’s no straightforward or apparent technique to entry your boards from Finder. There isn’t a devoted folder in iCloud Drive or wherever else. As an alternative, you’re meant to entry your boards strictly from inside Freeform.

When you’ve created a board, getting began is simple however a little bit totally different relying on the gadget you’re utilizing. On the iPhone and iPad, a board’s toolbar consists of buttons so as to add a drawing, a sticky notice, a form, textual content, or a picture. On the Mac, the drawing button is changed by one so as to add recordsdata. You possibly can add recordsdata to a board on the iPhone and iPad, too, however on these platforms, the choice is included within the drop-down that seems when you choose the picture button. Likewise, it’s also possible to add drawings to a board on the Mac, however solely by way of your iPhone or iPad.

On all three platforms, every type of merchandise you possibly can add to a board has its personal set of distinctive controls too. One of the crucial attention-grabbing is drawing on the iPad, which is its personal mode. Faucet the drawing button, and also you’re in drawing mode till you exit it. The function works so much like drawing in Notes, with some vital variations. For instance, Freeform doesn’t embrace a ruler for drawing straight traces or a highlighter however features a crayon and a device for creating color-filled shapes. Additionally, each apps help the iPad’s Scribble pen that converts handwriting to textual content, however Freeform’s implementation provides a dictation button to your drawing instruments, which makes it straightforward to modify to voice-based enter.

Nonetheless, not like Notes, you possibly can’t copy handwriting as textual content, straighten your handwriting, or search its contents. Your handwritten notes exist solely as a picture in Freeform, until they had been instantly transformed to textual content utilizing the devoted Scribble pen. It’s a disgrace handwriting is much less versatile in Freeform. I get that the app’s focus is on drawing and visible communication, however the lack of textual content recognition remains to be stunning, and one thing I hope is added in a future replace.

Freeform’s sticky notice button allows you to add sq. notes with a 3D curled impact in seven colours to your board. Of the instruments obtainable in Freeform, sticky notes have the fewest choices however are useful for leaving notes for somebody collaborating on a board with you or for your self when you’re engaged on a board throughout a number of periods.

The form device goes far past what you might have utilized in Notes. Along with customary shapes, it consists of traces, arrows, and lots of of clip art-style outlines of objects, animals, meals, and much more. Tapping on a form shows a popover with formatting choices, together with fill coloration, borders, and textual content. Freeform even has instruments to mix shapes and masks photographs with them, which seem in a popover when you choose a number of photographs or a picture and form.

Once I started testing Freeform, I didn’t count on to have a lot use for its shapes. Nonetheless, they’re a useful method to attract consideration to a passage of textual content and group gadgets collectively visually. Furthermore, the flexibility to mix shapes and masks photographs provides a whole lot of room for artistic mashups past the easy methods I’ve used shapes.

The textual content device is about what you’d count on. Tapping it provides a textual content field to your board that you would be able to double-tap so as to add textual content. Just like the app’s different objects, tapping a textual content object opens a popup with formatting controls, like textual content coloration, font, font dimension, justification, record types, indentation, and extra.

The default model for the textual content and form objects will be modified, too, which is a superb contact. Outline a block of textual content or form with the font, line widths, colours, and different choices you need, after which select ‘Save as Insert Type’ within the Type part of the thing’s right-click or three-dot menu. The following time you add a textual content field or form, it’ll use your newly outlined model. Types will be copied and pasted from one object to a different too.

The picture button supplies entry to pictures and video in your picture library, the digital camera of your iPhone or iPad, scanning with the iPhone or iPad, or including an internet hyperlink manually. On the iPhone and iPad, that is the place it’s also possible to add recordsdata to a board. As soon as added, photographs will be resized, cropped, and previewed. Textual content that seems in a photograph will be chosen and copied, however solely when previewing a picture.

Lastly, I’ve tried including an extended record of recordsdata to Freeform, and it really works with a surprisingly lengthy record. You possibly can add PDFs, JPEGs, PNGs, Adobe RAW photographs, TXT and RFT recordsdata, ZIP and .7z archives, WAV, MP3, and AAC audio recordsdata, GIFs, MP4 video recordsdata, iBook and EPUB recordsdata, .webarchive recordsdata, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote recordsdata, and, I’m positive, much more codecs. What’s extra, audio and video recordsdata will be performed inline or opened in a separate preview for playback. About the one recordsdata that I might discover that wouldn’t work in Freeform had been DMGs and customized, app-specific codecs.

One phrase of warning, although. Freeform isn’t a alternative for managing recordsdata or Apple’s sharing and collaboration instruments. That’s as a result of including a file to a Freeform board creates a duplicate and, on the iPad or iPhone, previewing after which opening that file from the board in its default app creates one more copy, which makes it straightforward to lose observe of your newest model of a doc. To make issues worse, the copies that Freeform creates have lengthy nonsense, UUID-based filenames that may make it tougher to seek out the duplicates. On the Mac, Freeform solely presents previews of embedded recordsdata, which open in a full-screen preview, which is annoying however doesn’t create troublesome duplicates.

Modifying and Navigating Your Board

To check Freeform, I made a decision to doc a typical journey down an Web rabbit gap and see how the app dealt with it. I began with the album I used to be listening to on Apple Music, Delicate Sounds from One other Planet by Japanese Breakfast. I hopped over to Pitchfork to learn their evaluate of it, dragging a paragraph from the evaluate onto my board, together with a hyperlink. Subsequent, I saved a pair extra opinions that I needed to learn later, plus hyperlinks to music movies I discovered on Apple Music and YouTube. My last cease was Japanese Breakfast’s competition schedule for 2023, which led me to lookup a few the competition places in Apple Maps.

With a bunch of objects laid out roughly on the canvas, I started dragging them round, including some notes and arrows as I went. Freeform makes the modifying course of easy. There’s an choice to activate a grid to assist align objects that’s accessible from the drop-down menu related to your board’s title. Objects snap to the grid, and tips seem, making it straightforward to align one object with one other.

If there’s a bunch of objects you need to align in relation to one another, drag your finger throughout them on the iPhone or iPad (or click-drag on the Mac) to pick a number of objects. A popover will seem with a number of alignment choices for making issues neat and tidy.

Objects can be grouped, to allow them to be dragged round as a unit or locked in place upon getting them the place you need them. Extra choices for each object or group of objects will be accessed from the three-dot menu button within the popover that seems upon choice or by right-clicking. Among the many highlights are the flexibility so as to add an outline to photographs, video, and audio recordsdata for accessibility functions, including shadows and rounded corners to photographs, constraining proportions of objects, like photographs and wealthy hyperlinks, and the flexibility to maneuver gadgets or teams of things ahead and again among the many layers in your board.

It doesn’t take lengthy to fill a display screen when modifying a board, however there are many methods to cope with even the biggest boards. On the iPhone and iPad, you possibly can pinch to zoom on the display screen and swipe on the canvas to disclose open areas. On the Mac, you are able to do the identical with trackpad gestures. The iPad and Mac additionally embrace zoom controls within the backside left nook of the display screen set to predefined zoom percentages, plus Zoom to Match Content material and Zoom to Choice, the previous being excellent for getting a hen’s eye view of a board and the latter being wonderful for modifying a particular area. One other useful navigation trick on the iPad and Mac is the flexibility to tab between objects if in case you have a keyboard hooked up.

Sharing and Exporting

Freeform makes use of Apple’s newest collaboration instruments to ask somebody to hitch you in making a board. I haven’t used this function extensively, however the means of sharing a hyperlink to a board utilizing iMessage was simple.

Boards will be exported as PDFs, which works in addition to will be anticipated for a multimedia doc. Hyperlinks are preserved, however audio and video recordsdata are lowered to picture thumbnails. Whereas not excellent, PDFs are ubiquitous and a great way to share a board with somebody who doesn’t use Apple gadgets.


Freeform is nice, particularly on the iPad, the place it takes full benefit of the Apple Pencil. Once I’m organizing my ideas, I have a tendency to take action with textual content. It’s what comes naturally to me as a author. Nonetheless, I’ve all the time been interested in canvas apps, particularly when organizing a venture that includes a mixture of different media like photographs, audio, and video.

What grabbed me most about Freeform is how straightforward it’s to get began. As I’m positive you possibly can recognize from this evaluate, this can be a deep app full of an extended record of choices and a number of methods to prepare your boards. As vital as these particulars are to creating Freeform a sturdy app, it’s equally vital that these instruments keep out of the best way. The instruments you want are all the time a faucet or click on away, however tucking them away in popovers and context menus has the twin benefit of creating the app much less intimidating to get began with and retaining the deal with the content material in your board.

That mentioned, I’d prefer to see recordsdata dealt with higher. If I create a board and embed a spreadsheet, I need to work together with the canonical model of the doc, not a duplicate. A duplicate is okay if a file is for reference functions solely, however for evolving paperwork and collaborative initiatives, there needs to be a single supply of reality for embedded paperwork, to allow them to change together with the knowledge on the board.

I’d additionally prefer to see Shortcuts supported. Actions for creating, discovering, exporting, and including content material to boards would all be helpful for energy customers.

I think darkish mode followers want to see help for a darkish canvas added too. Freeform adopts a darkish UI for its doc view and toolbar, however an possibility for a darkish canvas can be so much simpler on folks’s eyes in dimly lit environments.

These are all fairly minor quibbles, although. I’ve actually loved enjoying round with Freeform. I’ll nonetheless keep on with my outlines and note-taking for many initiatives as a result of that’s simply how I feel. Nonetheless, I’ll be enjoying round with Freeform much more too. The app’s flexibility and availability on each Apple platform present the type of flexibility that encourages creativity it doesn’t matter what gadget you have got with you.

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