Apple Freeform review

Hands on with Appleā€™s latest app

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I’m usually sceptical of software and hardware that have long gestation periods. It tends to signal an inherent shortcoming in its day-to-day practicality. Apple has had its share of non-starters like the wireless charging mat in recent times so when the Freeform app was showcased at WWDC2022, I was like an excited farm hand looking for a fence to lean on. But, half a year later, Apple’s version of an infinite whiteboard is here and it looks like they’ve cooked it to perfection. Until we know what more we need from an app like this. So what is it?

Think of Freeform as Notes on steroids, really. While the latter offers you structure in the form of bulleted lists, columns and text formatting, Freeform stimulates right-brain thinkers with an open, unlimited canvas that you can keep building on. At its very core, Freeform is literally a digital soft board where you can pin sticky notes, draw sketches, write text, add web links, audio and video clips.

 It isn’t the first app to do so. So what’s the big deal? Firstly, every other productivity tool that has the slightest potential to be on your device permanently is a paid app. And then, no other app gives you seamless integration with other devices and collaborators using an iOS or Mac device. Baked right into iOS 16.2, Freeform is totally free and is a ground-up design that takes into account the different form factors of the iPad, iPhone and Mac.

Predictably, the iPad feels like the most natural canvas for Freeform, especially with the Apple Pencil since it offers the closest approximation of writing on a never-ending whiteboard. Sketching, scribbling and annotating obviously is much more of a doddle on the iPad than on an iPhone Mini. Still, Apple has ensured that the experience isn’t distilled for any device. You can type faster and multitask (drag and drop) better on the Mac and use the iPhone for making on-the-go changes to a group vacation board, for example.

Freeform’s ease of scalability and quick access to a bank of shapes makes it fun to pepper your area of the vision board with highlights that may speak louder than words. True to its namesake, you can even write on top of any element, just as you physically can on an actual whiteboard. Apple flexes its deep integration with a share sheet that is as comprehensive as any of its other apps and lets you even interact with collaborators in real-time via FaceTime calls or iMessage from within the Freeform app! 

Since it’s so inclusive of media, one of my biggest concerns was the swelling file size for everyone involved in a project, but only the creator of the board has to carry the burden on his/her devices. Not the contributors or collaborators. Now that’s nifty and very kind of Apple.

It’s one of those apps that truly offers you a blank canvas, both literally and figuratively. So while the typical use case scenarios include collaborative school or work projects, vacation planning, home renovation ideas and then some, it’s only truly limited by your own imagination. And while not revolutionary in concept, the typical Apple implementation and execution might make Freeform stick on my home screen and could even make it as indispensable as the Notes app. We’ll see.