Apple’s Freeform: An All-In-One Collaboration Tool or Another Mediocre Drawing Board?


Unfortunately, the latter appears to be the case.

Whenever Apple sets a revamped iOS in motion, it comes with a slew of brand-new apps and functionalities; iOS 16.2 is no different. This next-generation software offers a grab bag of features, like Apple Music Sing (a sing-along karaoke feature exclusive to the Apple Music app), the sleep widget (which monitors users’ sleeping habits) and the medications widget (which keeps users on top of their medications). Along with these, a whiteboarding tool named Freeform also debuted to facilitate creative collaboration between users, friends and colleagues on Apple devices, including Mac, iPad and iPhone.

Many people, including myself as the author, were enticed to check out this seemingly out-of-this-world app due to its intriguing description and its potential capabilities. Unfortunately, upon closer examination, it turns out that the app isn’t up to par. Why? Let’s take a dive into the details.

A breakdown of Freeform

Let’s begin by going over the four main functions Freeform offers, starting with the sticky note.

The sticky note

If you’re wondering whether this feature merely offers you a digitized Post-it sticky note or something playful that lets your creativity run wild (which is probably what most of you are hoping for), you’ll be let down. As you can see in the image above, a sticky note is nothing more than a square filled with color.

What this function allows you to do is limited. Besides changing the color of your note, you can add text to it with a simple double-click. The size of the note can also be adjusted to accommodate the amount of content you wish to include. The size of the note can also be adjusted to accommodate the amount of content you wish to include. In case you have a lot to include, Freeform also allows you to add multiple notes to the canvas.


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Shapes that are more than you need

Not finding the sticky note function very helpful or inspiring? Don’t be disappointed yet because you’ll be amazed by the number of shapes you can find on Freeform. If you want to liven up your project with shapes, Freeform has got you covered, as it offers an impressive array of 1,023 shapes grouped into 16 categories, including objects, animals, symbols, activities, transportation and work. Among them, symbols, objects (e.g., furniture, stationery, household utensils) and animals comprise the majority, with symbols alone offering 182 shapes.

If the default solid blue colored shapes don’t appeal to you, you don’t have to settle for that. Freeform allows you to paint the shape in any color you like and customize its border (thickness, pattern and color). Like using a sticky note, you can double-click the shape and insert text. Plus, to save time looking for shapes, Freeform has a built-in search engine where you can enter keywords to let the system fetch you what you need in a matter of seconds.

Despite the above, do we need that many shapes? Apple says yes. But how many of us have enough time to spare to tweak them one by one and decorate the board? Not a lot of us do, unfortunately.

The drawing tools

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Opening Freeform on iPhone and iPad unlocks a feature that isn’t available on Mac—the drawing tools. If you’re an avid Apple user, you’ve probably used the drawing tool when annotating photos or notes. In that case, you should be able to recognize that Freeform’s drawing tools are almost identical to the ones found in Photos and Notes (Apple’s note-taking app).

The drawing tool in Photos

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The drawing tool in Notes

One thing worth pointing out is that Notes’ drawing tool set contains nine pens/tools. These include a marker, highlighter, ruler, fountain pen and even a brush pen. However, in Freeform, there are only six pens/tools in the toolbox, falling three short. Assuming Apple sets its sights on crafting a whiteboarding tool that enables users to work creatively, why is Freeform’s suite of drawing tools smaller than that of Notes—an app that’s not intended for creative design?

The collaboration function

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As a selling point of Freeform, the collaboration function allows users to invite and add up to 100 collaborators to contribute to the board together. Similar to Google Docs and other applications in the Google Workspace, Freeform allows users to control who has access to the board and specify whether only invited people or anyone with the link can view or edit the content. Additionally, users can choose whether collaborators can invite others to join the workspace.

So, what makes Freeform a washout?

Lack of creativity

Ironically, Apple promotes Freeform to enable users to work creatively with friends and colleagues, but the app itself lacks creativity. The sticky note function and drawing tool, not to mention the media and document import functions, have been around for a long time. It’s no exaggeration to say, thus, that what Apple has done is gather these long-existing functions and repackage them in the name of a “new app”.

Without a doubt, Apple is clear that users will grumble if they spot nothing noteworthy in the app. A viable solution to this is to create something that may wow the users, which potentially explains the presence of that large collection of shapes and the collaboration function. But is the plan working? No cut-and-dry answer has yet been provided.

Lack of competitiveness

It’s unclear which customer segment Apple was targeting when crafting Freeform, but the app certainly wouldn’t be at the top of the list for professionals. While the app’s collaboration function could be useful for designers and illustrators while collaborating with others on projects, the app falls short of being a top choice for these professionals. This is because the drawing tools and the shapes on offer are too basic, especially compared with specialized drawing apps and graphic design tools, like Procreate, Astropad Studio, Sketchbook and Picsart.

Although the above-mentioned apps don’t support collaboration, users can simply export their artwork in native file formats (e.g., “Procreate” in Procreate) and forward the file to their coworkers to continue creating. Moreover, there are multi-user graphic design tools, namely Canva, which allow users to edit in the same scene-based editor simultaneously without downloading and re-uploading their work.

Is Apple planning to add more functions to Freeform in the future? No one knows for sure. Still, one thing is certain: Apple always has something up its sleeve and can create something extraordinary. Who knows, the next big Freeform upgrade might be just around the corner.

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All images courtesy of the author


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