Apple’s new Freeform App

With the release of iOS 16.2 and iPadOS 16.2, iPhones and iPads are getting some significant updates. One of these allows users to choose end-to-end encryption for their photos and iCloud backups.

Another important feature worth talking about is Freeform, an app that Apple first showed up at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June. Freeform is kind of like a virtual whiteboard, if that whiteboard is infinite in size and can be digitally shared with others.
I suppose you might think of it as a brainstorming tool, but I’m not sure that’s right. Actually, it’s an app for getting ideas out of your head, connecting them to other ideas, and into something you can use to collaborate with others. That last part turns out to be one of the most useful features, and it’s one of the three reasons why I think Freeform can be a super productivity app.

Use it the way you think
Most of the tools we use on a regular basis are great for creating things like documents or spreadsheets. There are even useful creative tools for editing photos or creating video projects. The thing is, these are finished products.

If you’re writing a report, Google Docs, Word or Pages are just fine. If you’re creating a slide deck, Keynote is as good as it gets. The problem is that these apps don’t help you at all with the process of thinking about ideas.

Courtesy Apple
That’s what I love about Freeform – it gives you enough structure to organize your thoughts, but it mostly gets out of the way. It’s literally an endless blank canvas that you can use to add text or drawings or links to Web sites, photos or audio files.
Sharing ideas and collaboration
Apple talks about Freeform as a “real-time” collaboration opportunity. It’s not exactly real-time, like Google Docs updates things as you make changes-even when there are multiple people making changes-but Freeform is pretty good. Apple even handles consistency to make sure that if you make changes, they apply to the latest version of what your employees are doing.

Freeform also makes it easy to share information with your team just by sending a message. When your recipient opens the link, they open the Freeform app on whatever device they’re using, and they can view, edit, or interact with what you sent. You can also allow anyone with a link to access your board.
Frankly, there’s something missing. Sure, you can start a FaceTime call from Freeform, but let’s be honest, that’s not what a lot of people do for work. It would be great if Apple would allow third-party apps to integrate Freeform boards in the future.

Also, you have to have the Freeform app to collaborate. This means using the latest version of iPadOS or iOS. If your teammates are on older or outdated devices, you’re out of luck. Same if they’re on windows. You can’t view or interact with the Freeform board in a browser, which seems like an oversight. Perhaps that’s just because Freeform is a brand new app.

Not just on the iPad
On the other hand, the fact that Freeform is not only on the iPad is actually a bigger solution than you might think. Freeform is a great app for the iPad, mainly because it’s optimized to use the Apple Pencil. The thing is, not everything I do is on the iPad. Also, not everyone I might want to share the Freeform board with apps-or even have-iPads.

Courtesy Apple
So Apple has made sure that the app works on iPad, iPhone and Mac. It works pretty much the same on all three platforms, except for Apple Pencil. As a result, you can’t draw on the boards when you’re open on the Mac. If you’re working on the Mac and you have your iPad handy, you can “import a sketch,” but honestly, if you’re going to do that, you might as well just open Freeform on your iPad.