Apple has released a brand new app, which doesn’t happen very often: Freeform is now available for iOS 16.2, iPadOS 16.2 or macOS Ventura 13.1, and has been described as a “flexible canvas” that you can use in just about any way you want. The emphasis is on sharing and collaboration, but you can use Freeform – essentially a blank digital whiteboard – both alone and in groups.
Here we’re going to walk you through some Freeform basics, to give you an idea of what the app is capable of and the different ways you might be able to use it. The interface is laid out slightly differently on phones and tablets than on 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 using.
The basics of Freeform
Open Freeform for the first time and you’ll find a somewhat terrifying 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 much more, organized the way you prefer, and of course you can create as many pages as you want—there’s no paper to run out.
Freeform is impressively intuitive and versatile. For example, you can just drag a file in from Finder on macOS and quickly double-click to preview it. Videos and audio play right in the app, so you don’t jump back and forth between different screens or wait for something to load. Each element can be moved, resized, rotated, and layered on top of other objects.
G/O Media may receive a commission
Apple has implemented built-in alignment guides (shown on screen as gray dots) so your boards don’t look too chaotic and certain items can be locked in place if needed (especially useful if you start inviting other people to use your Freeform). parts). creations). The boards can be as big as you want, so you’ll never run out of space, and there are easy-to-use zoom and select tools included, at.
If you are using an iPad or an iPhone, you get access to more drawing tools: these freeform pens and brushes aren’t available on macOS, and you can use your finger or an Apple Pencil to create your scribbles. It’s a shame these sketching options aren’t available on the Mac, but the lack of a touchscreen means it might be understandable – of course you can still see these drawings if you use the desktop app; you just can’t make them.
Using Freeform to collaborate
Collaboration is one of Freeform’s strengths, and you can invite up to 99 other people to collaborate with you on a board. This takes the app’s potential to the next level: you can use it for anything, from determining your business strategy for the next 12 months with dozens of colleagues to planning a wedding with a few close friends and relatives. Everyone gets access to the same features and tools, and you can mark each contributor in real time with color-coded cursors if you want.
To invite someone else to your Freeform board, use the tried and tested sharing option – after that it’s just a matter of choosing the people you want to work with. Changes are synced and reflected in real time, and you can make changes to who can access 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.
As you would expect, Freeform works very nicely and neatly with other Apple software. For example, you can drag a Freeform board onto a conversation in Messages to instantly invite all the people in that chat thread to collaborate. Activity updates on the board are posted in 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, the canvas may have just arrived too chaotic and you need to bring some order – you can start a FaceTime call between all employees on a board, with video boxes popping up 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 boards, they can be saved as PDFs and sent to other apps as needed.
The possibilities of Freeform
We like the flexibility and ease of use Freeform offers: it’s not the most innovative app (a lot of functionality is duplicated in Apple Notes, for example), but its appeal lies in how limitless it is. Mostly, it just works, like most Apple appsand it can perform an impressive number of tasks (such as media playback) without any additional help.
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 another digital whiteboard app, Freeform may not have enough to convince you to switch.
The ways you can use Freeform are virtually endless, whether it’s planning the structure of a video game you’re working on, just trying to remember what to buy at the grocery store, working on offensive plays for a basketball team, or just draw and play with creative ideas in the hope that inspiration will eventually strike.
What you may not know is that Google offers something similar in the form of Google Jam Board, one of the company’s lesser-known products. Many of the same features are included, plus some extras: you can combine text, images, and sticky notes, for example, and there’s even a virtual laser pointer. It pairs well with other Google products (such as Google Meet), but right now it feels like Apple’s product is a little more advanced and useful as a whiteboard tool.