How to use Apple’s new Freeform app

Freeform is used on iPhone, iPad and Mac

Freeform works on mobile and desktop devices.
Photo: Apple

Apple released a new app, which doesn’t happen often: Freeform is already available for iOS 16.2, iPadOS 16.2, or macOS Ventura 13.1, and is described as a “flexible canvas” that you can use pretty much any way you see fit. The emphasis is on sharing and collaboration, but you can use Freeform, essentially a blank digital slate, alone or in groups.

Here we’ll walk you through some of the basics of Freeform, to give you an idea of ​​what the app is capable of and the different ways you can use it. The interface is presented slightly differently on phones and tablets compared to desktop, and there are extras like Apple Pencil support, but Apple has worked hard to make the Freeform experience very similar no matter what device you’re on.

The basics of free form

freeform screenshot

Freeform offers a library of shapes to use.
Screenshot: Free form

Open Freeform for the first time, and you’re met with a slightly daunting mass of white space, waiting for your input. The freeform canvas can combine text, images, videos, audio clips, web links, shapes, sticky notes, map locations, documents, and more, arranged the way you like, and of course, you can create as many pages as you like. : no paper to run out of.

Freeform is impressively intuitive and versatile. You can simply drag a file from the Finder on macOS, for example, which can then be quickly previewed with a double-click. Videos and audio play directly within the app, so you’re not bouncing between different screens or waiting for something to load. Each element can be moved, resized and rotated, and overlap other objects.

freeform screenshot

You can place links, videos, images and more.
Screenshot: Free form

Apple has implemented built-in alignment guides (shown on screen as gray dots), so your boards don’t look too chaotic, and certain elements can be locked into place if needed (particularly useful if you start inviting other people). people to share their Freeform creations). Boards can be expanded to be as big as you want, so you’ll never run out of space, and easy-to-use zoom and selection tools are included, also.

If you’re on an iPad or an iPhone, You have access to more drawing tools: These freeform pens and brushes aren’t available in macOS, and you can use your finger or an Apple Pencil to do your doodles. It’s a shame these drawing options aren’t available on the Mac, even though it doesn’t have a touchscreen. It’s perhaps understandable: of course, you can still see these drawings if you’re using the desktop app; you just can’t create them.

Using Freeform to collaborate

freeform screenshot

You can easily collaborate with other people.
Screenshot: Free form

Collaboration is one of Freeform’s strengths, and you can invite up to 99 other people to work with you on a board. This takes the potential of the app to a higher level: you can use it for anything, from deciding on your company’s strategy for the next 12 months with dozens of colleagues, to planning a wedding with a few close friends and family. Everyone has access to the same features and tools, and you can highlight each contributor in real time with color-coded cursors if you want.

To invite someone else to your Freeform board, use the tried and trusted sharing option; then it’s just a matter of choosing the people you’d like to work with. Changes are synced and displayed in real time, and you can change who has access to your Freeform boards at any time. The navigation pane gives you access to your recent boards, your shared boards, your favorite boards, and a list of all your boards.

freeform screenshot

You can link FaceTime calls to board collaborators.
Screenshot: Free form

As expected, Freeform works very well and seamlessly with other Apple software. For example, you can drag a freeform board onto a conversation in Messages to instantly invite everyone in that chat thread to collaborate. Activity updates on the board will be posted to the same conversation thread, so you can see who’s doing what without necessarily switching between apps.

If you prefer some face-to-face interaction, maybe the canvas just got too chaotic and you need to impose some order: you can start a FaceTime call between all collaborators on a board, with video frames appearing in the corner of the screen so you can keep an eye on your digital canvas at the same time. When it comes to exporting your dashboards, they can be saved as PDF files and sent to other apps where needed.

The possibilities of Freeform

freeform screenshot

Freeform already offers many features.
Screenshot: Free form

We like the flexibility and ease of use that Freeform offers: It’s not the most innovative of apps (many of the features are duplicated in Apple Notes, for example), but its appeal lies in how unrestrictive it is. Most of the time, it just works, as with most apple appsand it can perform an impressive number of tasks (such as playing media) without any additional help.

All of that said, it’s a work in progress. It’s not always obvious how to do something, like rotate or layer, and the macOS app is currently clunkier than the mobile versions. Freeform works best with an iPad and an Apple Pencil, which is how we suspect most people will use it. There is clearly room for improvement, and if you are already satisfied with a whiteboard application, Freeform might not have enough to to convince you to change.

freeform screenshot

Freeform currently works best on an iPad.
Picture: Apple

The ways you can use Freeform are almost endless, whether it’s to plan the structure of a video game you’re working on, just trying to remember what you need to buy at the grocery store, working on offensive plays for a basketball team, or just doodling and playing with creative ideas in the hope that inspiration will finally strike.

What you may not know is that Google offers something similar in the form of Google Jamboard, one of the company’s lesser-known products. Many of the same features are included, plus a few extras: you can combine text, images, and sticky notes, for example, and there’s even a virtual laser pointer. It fits perfectly with other Google products (such as Google Meet), but at the moment it seems that Apple’s product is a bit more advanced and more useful as a whiteboard tool.

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