Anyone using Freeform regularly?

I’m just curious if anyone is past the experimentation phase, and has moved on to using Freeform in their regular workflow. What has your experience been like? Anyone create a large enough number of boards, or boards with a lot of content to the point of experiencing performance issues?

Ideally, I’d like some kind of integration with Apple Notes (or DEVONthink, but that’s not going to happen lol), but even as is, I’m okay with hitting share inside of Freeform and creating a link to the Freeform board to insert into AN and/or DT. By sharing a link to the board, at least I’m able to title and tag it in AN or DT so that it’s sort of searchable with the rest of my notes. Obviously the content won’t be indexed, but it’s better than nothing. However, I don’t want to eventually have a bunch of Freeform boards that end up being unusable because the app isn’t optimized to handle the content.

I have started to use Freeform on a daily basis in my work life. My current project at a client involves 3rd level support for Microsoft technology (SharePoint) and I find Freeform to be perfect for those brainstorming ideas where I gather all the information and debugging and code snippets and screenshots that appear. I also use it to do explorative testing before any new releases to organize any screenshots, annotations and text snippets.
I just love that Freeform gives me a free page to move everything around …
I tried using Word or OneNote for those but I’m simply not compatible with Microsoft apps :upside_down_face: (nevermind that I’m a Microsoft consultant :sweat_smile:).

However those Freeforms are one-offs and I’m likely to export a PDF is it’s anything worth keeping and put it onto our SharePoint or GitLab and delete the Freeform at one point.

Freeform works pretty well for me although not perfect - for instance I wish it would let me disable the preview feature when entering a URL as its mostly hitting a login page and pasting URLs into a text field makes them not clickable :man_shrugging:

Anyway: it works pretty well at the moment … AN is too top to bottom for me for this type of unstructured brainstorming.

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I frequently use Freeform with the Apple Pencil on my iPad for unstructured mind mapping, such as when developing a long article, presentation, or complex project. Once I have sketched my general thoughts, I manually enter the information into my mind mapping application or OmniOutliner for refinement before exporting it to my writing app.

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I use Muse, which is essentially a Freeform competitor, similarly to @Bmosbacker. Once I’ve finished noodling on an idea, I either export a snapshot into the permanent project or just delete it so Muse stays clean and I don’t get precious about my rough explorations. For longer-term thoughts I use its http links to refer back (hoping deep app links return to it as well.)

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From my own workflow perspective I was really disappointed with Freeform. I really wanted to like it, but it felt little more than the graphics part of keynote ,repackaged with an infinite canvas. I was surprised that the desktop version doesn’t have a freeform pen tool, and I can’t get over how clumsy the connections tool is for a app such as this.

I use Figjam which, IMHO, is better than Freeform. You can produce “post it notes” quickly (which if typed can be exported as a CSV) the connectors are great and shapes are easy to use. You can keep it super simple, or use templates, tables and a slew of plugins.

For lightly more complex idea ‘stuff’ I also use Muse and others such as Milanote and Kosmik - although the last two are quite expensive, but both have free / tryout plans

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I use Freeform for teaching (academia, medicine) since Sep 2023, no troubles so far. I create separate board for every topic I cover so they are not huge (up to 50 mb I believe), but contain a bunch of different media (drawings, PDFs, short videos) – everything runs/sync perfectly, though. As roughly 90% of Students in my groups use Apple (and as they don’t mind sharing their devices during classes), I regularly provide Freeform links to let them comment and expand my boards while studying, and the real-time collaboration is also pretty smooth.
Previous year I relied on Muse app for such purposes, but the lack of flexible zoom and gif/video handling made it less convenient in the classroom compared to Freeform; for the record, Muse remains superior as a fast brainstorming tool, especially on iPad.

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The free space to move things around is what really attracts me to Freeform. I used OneNote for years, and grew very accustomed to the infinite canvas, until Microsoft pulled the plug on the ability to save locally with the newer versions, and didn’t/still doesn’t offer end to end encryption on OneDrive. I was elated when Apple introduced Advanced Data Protection, and with that offered us the ability to also turn off iCloud web access. Not that I have state secrets to hide, but I feel better knowing my data is private.

I think I’m going to give Freeform a go, and we’ll see where things end up in the coming months.

How many boards have you created?

I have used it some, but I have found it to be a little too basic to use for more complex tasks. I like that you can share it with others and multiple users can work in it at the same time. I also like that you can use the pencil with it on the iPad. However, a this point I use Curio as an “infinite canvas.” For all intents and purposes you can make a Curio whiteboard as big as you want. Curio has a lot more tools and features than Freeform. On the other hand, Freeform is part of the Apple ecosystem, so it’s free.

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Just checked, I have 48 boards for now. 25 of them are „permanent” (I am going to rebuild and reuse them next semester), 23 are „task” boards, shared with my Students. I’ve never had significantly more boards in Freeform so can’t tell if the app scales nicely for, say, hundred of boards. Still, I use Freeform on iPad Pro 2018 with no hiccups so far.

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Anyone using Freeform regularly?

Yes, daily! So much so in fact I was about to start a thread in the forum to ask if anyone has figured out a good system for back-ups, as I’ve realised I now have quite a lot of useful stuff in Freeform that I’m worried about losing! All the boards are on iCloud and I can’t see that there’s a folder somewhere where we can lift the files for manual back-up. Has anyone thought about this?

On to actual use, mine starts with a caveat that my employer is heavily into Miro, so I was already comfortable with this type of “whiteboard app”. Freeform simply allowed me to bring such a tool into my personal life.

For me, Freeform has replaced many things I used GoodNotes for, and allowed me to introduce things I already did for work in Miro to other areas of my life. Examples:

When I bought and then moved house in 2020 and 2021 I did all my planning, idea collecting, mapping out costs and priorities, etc. in GoodNotes (in the U.K. buying houses takes a ridiculously long time -I envy our American friends their quick system!-, but also the house needed work doing, and there was a pandemic). The final notebook was over 200 pages. I haven’t completed all the ideas I had (or even stopped collecting ideas), but I’ve now moved the outstanding work to Freeform boards as self-contained projects. E.g. I have a board for the garage conversion I’m planning.

I also used to “administer” my hobbies with GoodNotes, but have now switched to Freeform. For example, I had separate notebooks on craft/DIY projects I wanted to do, including images and links to inspiration, tips and instructions I didn’t want to lose, etc. That all goes on boards now. I had a notebook for my playing of Skyrim where I saved ideas I wanted to explore, maps, checklists, etc. I’m now using Freeform for the same thing with other games, and it works much better as there’s infinite space, it’s easier to navigate when gaming (no flipping of pages) and Freeform handles links and images really well.

For the last month I’ve also been using Freeform as a productivity aid, using it to manage my weekly calendar view and pending tasks. I screengrab my calendar for the week and move post-it’s that have tasks on them about. (This specifically replicates how we used to use wall planners.)

I’ve also been using Freeform to manage long-term shopping lists for the last 6 months, which I’m happy with. I used to keep a list of items I fancied buying at a future date in Apple Notes and Reminders (e.g. book titles, gift ideas, house and garden items, etc.). Now I just have multiple boards and I paste the link in. My book shopping list is even divided up by genre, with different areas on the board for different types of title. (It’s a weird use of Freeform but I really recommend it - links in Freeform show previews, which means you can visually look at your list and click to visit the website!)

Niggles that I’d like to see addressed at some point:

  • a more reassuring system for accessing files that means we can do manual back-ups

  • I do not find the Mac app a pleasure to use. At the very least, Apple need to implement robust mouse integration so that zooming and moving about on the board are instinctive. It seems mind-boggling to me that they didn’t do this at launch. Miro does this so well. Why am I having to navigate with the up/down left/right bars like it’s the 1990s??

  • we need folder support! For now I’ve addressed this by using a letter prefix on all boards that arrange them by type. E.g. all project boards start “P -“. All work notes start with the initials of my employer. All meeting notes start “M -“ etc. I assume folders will come in time!

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Folders would definitely be a nice addition.

As far as backup, both Notes and Freeform has that issue. I’m sure the data for both Notes and Freeform are stored somewhere in ~/Library/ but it would be nice to know for certain which directory contains the data (I’m seeing multiple Freeform and Notes directories), and whether that’s just a cache from iCloud for whatever I’ve recently/frequently accessed, or if it is all of the data.

I got a lot of inspiration from your post, thank you!

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I’m giving a talk to one of my client’s teams next week, and, prompted by this discussion I decided to use Freeform rather than keynote.

I’ve prepared the Freeform canvas on a mix of iPad, Mac Studio and MacBook Air.

I’ll present it, by scrolling and zooming using the Studio’s trackpad. I will also move a few of the shapes around in realtime, as needed.

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Out of sheer coincidence, episode 739 is us checking in on Freeform.

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I’ve posted some screengrabs to show how I’m using Freeform, available here:

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I wanted to jump in and share that I’m starting to use it regularly to take notes about topics with concept and mind maps. I’ll also incorporate using it to teach something to an imaginary person when reviewing my notes.

The downside is that I don’t have a good way to organize and save my notes, I have to rely on the search bar.

I’ve just started trying to use it. I am having difficulty adjusting to the infinite canvas; I find it disorienting.

I think the app defaults to “sort by date”, but you can switch to “sort by name” which I’ve found far better. It’s the 4 little squares on the left of the select button when you’re viewing all your boards (top right of screen).

Once you’re using “sort by name”, just create a couple of naming conventions for yourself and that will make life easier (e.g. my work notes all start with the initials of my employer, project notes all start with “P -“, Meeting notes start “M -“).

For me this is just a temporary measure until Apple implements folders, but it makes life easier in the meantime. I am also being very strict about exporting boards to PDF and deleting once I don’t need them so that the app only has “live” boards.

In what way? Is it just because you’re not used to it? (Bear in mind it simply might not match either the way you like to think or the way you like to work - that’s ok!) It might help to think of it like a big sheet of paper - use it like you would that.

Also, for some of my boards I drew rectangles that I then write within that rectangle. I know it defeats the purpose of an infinite canvas, but sometimes my brain wants that level of structure. You can lock a shape once you’ve drawn it and then just work within it. I have for example a board template that’s just a rectangle exactly the shape of my iPad screen, so that I can limit myself to that area if I want to (and it happens to print nicely as well).

It’s funny because yesterday I was in a “real life” workshop and we were given those big sheets of meeting paper that turn up at these things, and I was watching how some people wrote small on a portion of the paper, and others sprawled messily across it and I thought “this is why infinity canvases exist now :joy:”.