At some point in your life, you’ve probably used a whiteboard or even a chalkboard as a means to brainstorm ideas.
You’ve scribbled words, drawn pictures, and connected dots in order to help bring those moments of brilliance to fruition.
For many, a whiteboard is a crucial tool for collaboration. Apple knows this and has finally integrated such a feature into its three operating systems. That feature is called Freeform and is built into the latest releases of MacOS, iOS, and iPadOS.
If you’re a visual collaborator, you’ll love this app.
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Freeform promises to be the exact whiteboard app you’ve been looking for, as it removes the need to use a third-party service. As you work with Freeform, the canvas expands as more content is added. This infinite canvas gives you unlimited flexibility as you collaborate with other brainstormers. Freeform also features:
- A variety of brushes.
- Support for Apple Pencil.
- Support for PDF, photos, videos, audio, documents, links, sticky notes, shapes, diagrams, and more.
- Drag and drop from other apps.
- Quick Look gives you a preview of your content without leaving the board.
- Content can be locked in place.
- Collaborate with up to 100 users.
- FaceTime is built in.
Freeform is free to use and is installed on the operating system by default.
Also: How to take notes on your iPad with an Apple Pencil — 3 very simple ways
I will warn you, however, that Freeform is currently problematic and until Apple resolves a deal-breaking issue, you’ll find the app less than effective. You might, however, be one of the lucky ones to avoid the problem.
What is Freeform, and why should it be your next creative brainstorming tool?
In order to use Freeform, you’ll need one of the following versions of your Apple OS:
- MacOS 13.2
- iOS 16.2
- iPadOS 16.2
For syncing your boards across your devices, you’ll also need iCloud Syncing enabled (more on this in a bit).
When you first open Freeform, you’ll be prompted to optionally enable iCloud syncing. For that, click Go to Settings, click Apple ID, and then click iCloud. In the resulting window, scroll down until you see the Freeform icon and click the ON/OFF slider until it’s in the ON position. Because this app is so new, on my MacBook Pro it was listed as Unknown. When prompted, click Merge. More on this issue in a moment.
Note: Enabling iCloud Syncing not only allows you to access your boards across device, but it also makes it possible to share boards. Without enabling iCloud Syncing, you cannot share boards.
Once you’ve configured iCloud Syncing, close Settings and you should then find yourself on the main Freeform window.
The first thing you might want to do is click on Untitled in the top left corner and give your board a name.
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After naming your board, you can click any one of the elements at the top of the board to start adding sticky notes, shapes, images, links, text, lists, and more.
The one thing you might find is that the drawing tool only appears on devices with a touch screen. So, if you’re using a MacBook or iMac that doesn’t include a touchscreen, you won’t be able to use the sketch tool. This does limit what you can do on a non-touchscreen device, but if you don’t need the sketch option, you’ll find plenty of elements that can be added and manipulated.
Sharing a board
This is where things get dicey. Even with Freeform iCloud Sync enabled, my machine restarted, and other apps syncing fine with iCloud, I was unable to share a board. After a quick bit of research, it seems this is a known issue. My gut tells me it has something to do with Freeform being listed in iCloud Sync Settings as “Unknown” which actually seemed to be the issue.
Upon upgrading MacOS to 13.2, there’s a little thing called the “Terms of service agreement” for iCloud that you must agree to before any syncing can occur with your devices. To agree to those TOS, open Settings and click on the notification under Update Apple ID Settings.
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You should be presented with a popup where you can scroll through the terms and agree. Once you’ve done that, the iCloud Sync Settings will automatically switch from Unknown to Freeform. Disable Freeform, re-enable it, click Merge, and sync should start working. If not… Apple, are you listening?
Work out those kinks
Hopefully, once Apple irons out the Freeform syncing kinks, this app will help you take your collaboration to the next level. Until then, unfortunately, Freeform has a problem that renders the tool less than useful. At least you can kick the tires of the app, so you’re ready for it when it comes time to collaborate.