Apple Notes might just be the best free note-taking app you can use, provided you have an iPhone or a Mac (ideally both). The app is packed full of features that many note-taking apps charge money for, so if you’re not yet using it you might want to give it a shot.
RELATED: How (and Why) to Switch to Apple Notes
Scan Documents and Text
On an iPhone or iPad, Notes can function as a document scanner that automatically saves any captures to iCloud. This allows you to access them on just about any device shortly after you’ve completed a scan.
To do this, open a new note and tap on the camera icon at the bottom of the screen. Choose “Scan Documents” from the menu that appears, then point your camera at whatever it is you’re trying to scan and wait. This works best if you put the document on a contrasting background, for example, a white piece of paper on a dark desk.
You can also choose “Scan Text” from the camera menu if you’d rather take an editable copy of the text and place it directly into a note. This allows you to edit the text as if you’d typed it yourself. It’s especially useful for grabbing quotes from books that you want to paste into a document or to capture large bodies of text quickly so that you can search through them for keywords.
RELATED: How to Scan Documents with the iPhone's Notes App
Draw Perfect Freehand Shapes
You can use the markup tools in a note to scribble and draw on an iPhone or iPad. Tap on the pen icon at the bottom of the screen and use the various pens and other tools to write and draw. On an iPad with an Apple Pencil, you can take handwritten notes, draw freehand, and use the ruler to make perfectly straight lines.
But did you know you can also draw perfect shapes? To do this, draw a shape as you normally would but don’t take your finger (or Pencil) off the screen. Keep holding your finger or stylus down for a few seconds to see the shape magically transform into a perfect version of itself. This works with squares and rectangles, straight and curved lines, circles, triangles, stars, and pentagons.
RELATED: How to Draw Perfect Shapes on iPhone and iPad
Collaborate on (and Share) Notes
Apple Notes isn’t quite Google Drive when it comes to sharing and collaboration, but for a note-taking app, the list of features is pretty exhaustive. You can share and collaborate on a note in real-time, just as you would in Google Docs. To do this, you’ll need to be logged into your Apple ID with a note open. On an iPhone tap on the ellipsis “…” icon in the top-right corner, then tap “Share Note” and on a Mac, you can just tap on the “Share Note” button that looks like a person’s head with a plus icon next to it.
At the next stage, you’ll be able to specify whether you want to share the note with edit privileges (labeled “Can make changes”) or as “View only” with the option to limit whether who you’re sharing it with can share it with more people. You can send an invite using a range of apps including Messages, Mail, Facebook, or simply by copying a link that you can pass on to someone any other way.
Once you’ve shared a note with someone, you can use the @mention format to tag them and get detailed breakdowns of changes made to notes.
Share (and Collaborate on) Whole Folders
You can move a note to a specific folder using the ellipsis “…” context menu on an iPhone or iPad or by right-clicking the note on a Mac and choosing the “Move to” option. If you’re frequently collaborating with someone on something and you’d rather not share each note individually but as a whole collection, you can share the folder instead.
With your designated folder created, you can share a folder on iPhone or iPad by swiping left on it from the top-level “Folders” screen. Tap on the blue “Share” icon (it looks like a person’s head with a plus arrow next to it) then share it as you would a regular note. You can do the same from a Mac by right-clicking on the folder in the sidebar and choosing the “Share Folder” option.
Filter With Smart Folders
Apple loves Smart Folders. They’ve been a staple on the Mac for years, Apple Mail has Smart Mailboxes which function in an identical manner, and you can also use them in Apple Notes. Here, they allow you to bring together notes regardless of the folder you have used to organize them thanks to tags.
Tagging notes in Apple Mail must be done within the note body itself using a #hashtag format. By sharing tags across your entire notes collection, you can create a new smart folder to filter by tag and bring together relevant items. So for example you may want to tag all proof of purchases with the #receipt tag, but separate each into separate folders for work and personal. If you want to display all receipts at tax time regardless of where they are stored, you can create a Smart Folder that pulls in and displays only notes tagged with #receipt.
Create a Smart Folder as you would a normal folder. On iPhone or iPad, tap on the “New Folder” icon in the bottom-left corner of the top-level “Folders” screen. Select “New Smart Folder” then give it a name and decide which tags to filter by. On a Mac you can click on the “New Folder” button in the bottom-left corner of the app then do the same. Smart Folders that are stored in iCloud appear on all of your devices.
Take a Quick Note
You can take access notes on an iPhone or iPad by adding the Apple Notes widget to your home screen. To take a quick note, you can add the New Note shortcut to Control Center. To do this, head to Settings > Control Center and tap the green plus “+” icon next to the “Notes” option. You can drag it up and down in the list to reorder where it appears.
You can then access this shortcut on an iPhone or modern iPad by swiping down from the top-left corner of the screen. If you have an older iPhone with a Home button, swipe up from the bottom of the screen instead. On older iPads with a Home button, double-tap on the Home button to reveal Control Center.
On a Mac, you can use the Quick Note hot corner shortcut (enabled by default) in macOS Monterey. You’ll find this option under System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver > Hot Corners. When it’s enabled, drag your pointer to the designated corner and click to take a new note. These notes will be stored in a “Quick notes” folder until you reorganize them.
Access Notes From the Web
If you’re storing notes in iCloud (and by default on new devices, all notes will be stored in iCloud) you can access them from the web at iCloud.com. This allows you to access and take Apple Notes on Windows or Android devices, and though it’s not as good as a native app it’s perfect in a pinch when you’re away from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
Pin Useful Notes
If you have notes that you need to refer to frequently, whether it’s to view information or make amendments, you can pin them so that they will always appear at the top of your list. This will ensure you won’t lose them among all your other notes since Apple Notes organizes everything in chronological order. It’s particularly useful if you need to read information from a note without changing it since viewing a note won’t “bump” it to the top in the same way that editing a note will.
To pin a note on iPhone or iPad, open it then tap on the ellipsis “…” context menu and select “Pin Note” from the options that appear. You can pin a note on a Mac by right-clicking on it and choosing “Pin Note” instead. Notes that are pinned on one device will appear pinned on another when synced via iCloud, but they won’t show up pinned on iCloud.com.
Find Text Within a Note
If you have especially long notes, it can be a drag trawling through them to find something specific. Fortunately, you can search within any note to make your life a little easier. To do this, open a note on your iPhone or iPad then tap on the ellipsis “…” button and choose “Find in Note” to search within a note’s body.
On macOS, you can simply use the Command+F keyboard shortcut to search through the note as you would a webpage.
RELATED: 35+ Mac Text-Editing Keyboard Shortcuts to Speed Up Typing
Apple Shortcuts Integration
Apple Shortcuts is a powerful tool for both iOS and macOS devices that lets you automate and speed up many different processes. While not a Notes-specific feature, Apple’s note-taking app has a decent range of actions, including “Append to Note” to add more detail to an existing note, “Create Note” to start a new note, and both “Show Note” and “Show Note Folder” actions to display information.
How you use this integration depends on what you’re looking to do. Some use it to expedite their journaling process, record geotagging and weather information, or automate a daily to-do list. With Shortcuts automations, you could use Notes to record the number of time you arrive at a location (like the gym), when you open an app, or how often you charge your device.
How to Switch to Apple Notes
If you typically use Evernote, you can switch to Apple Notes fairly easily by exporting collections one-by-one. If you don’t use Evernote, you may need to use it as a stepping stone to migrate from something like OneNote.
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