Tech

What is Freeform and why should it be your next creative brainstorming tool?


People collaborate with open notebooks

Benevolent Eyes/David Oxberry/Getty Images

At some point in your life, you’ve probably used a whiteboard or even a chalkboard as a vehicle for brainstorming.

You scribbled words, drew pictures, and connected the dots to help make those wonderful moments a reality.

For many people, a whiteboard is an important element collaboration tools. 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 are a visual collaborator, you will love this app.

Also: The best collaboration apps

Freeform promises to be the exact whiteboard app you’re looking for, as it eliminates the need for third-party services. 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 PDF, photo, video, audio, document, link, sticky note, shape, diagram, etc.
  • Drag and drop from other apps.
  • Quick View 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 by default on the operating system.

Also: How to take notes on iPad with Apple Pencil — 3 very simple ways

However, I will warn you that Freeform is currently experiencing issues, and until Apple resolves the breach of agreement issue, you will find the application less effective. However, you may be one of the lucky ones to avoid the problem.

What is Freeform and why should it be your next creative brainstorming tool?

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To use Freeform, you will need one of the following versions of Apple OS:

  • Mac OS 13.2
  • iOS 16.2
  • iPadOS 16.2″

To sync your boards across your devices, you also need to enable iCloud Sync (more on this in a bit).

When you open Freeform for the first time, you’ll be prompted to enable the iCloud sync option. For that, click Go to Settings, click Apple ID, then click iCloud. In the resulting window, scroll down until you see the Freeform icon and click the ON/OFF slider until it is in the ON position. Because the app is so new, on my MacBook Pro it’s listed as Unknown. When prompted, click Merge. More on this in a moment.

Freeform List in iCloud Sync Settings.

Enable Freeform for iCloud sync.

Photo: Jack Wallen

Note: Enabling iCloud Sync not only allows you to access your boards on your device, but also allows boards to be shared. If you don’t turn on iCloud Sync, you can’t share the board.

Once you’ve configured iCloud Sync, close Settings and you’ll then find yourself in the main Freeform window.

The first thing you might want to do is click Untitled in the top left corner and give your table a name.

Also: 5 best note-taking apps for iPad

After you name your board, you can click any element at the top of the table to start adding sticky notes, shapes, images, links, text, lists, etc.

A sample Freeform table.

Creating a table in Freeform is pretty straightforward.

Photo: Jack Wallen

One thing you may find is that the drawing tool only appears on devices with touch screens. So if you are using a MacBook or iMac Touch screen is not included, you will not be able to use the sketch tool. This limits what you can do on a non-touchscreen device, but if you don’t need the outline option, you’ll find plenty of elements that can be added and manipulated.

Share the board

This is where things go awry. Even with Freeform iCloud Sync enabled, my machine restarted and other apps syncing fine with iCloud, I can’t share the board. After a quick research, it looks like this is a known issue. My intuition tells me it has something to do with Freeform being listed in the iCloud Sync Settings as “Unknown”, which actually seems to be the problem.

When upgrading MacOS to 13.2, there is a little thing called a “Terms of Service Agreement” for iCloud that you must agree to before any syncing can happen to your device. To agree to those TOS, open Settings and click the notification under Update Apple ID Settings.

Also: How to Easily Transfer Files from Android to MacOS

You will see a pop-up 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. Turn Freeform off, turn it back on, click Merge and the sync should start working. If not… Apple, are you listening?

Working out these kinks

Hopefully after Apple gets rid of the Freeform sync bottlenecks, this app will help you take your collaboration to the next level. Unfortunately, until then, Freeform has issues that make the tool less useful. At least you can use the app fluently, so you’re ready to go when it’s time to collaborate.

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