A lot has changed since the first version of Apple Notes, and fortunately, it’s all for the better. I’ve spent quite a while trying to find a note-taking app that works for me. I’m integrated into the Apple eco-system – some like that, some don’t. For me, it works – everything (usually) ‘just works’.
Fortunately, the Apple ecosystem has a plethora of options for note taking. Whether that be Apples own Notes app or one of the many other apps available. I’ve recently evaluated a number of different apps for my own use. While they all have their own advantages and disadvantages, by far the most ‘usable’ for me was the Apple Notes app. Luckily, it’s free and installed on all devices by default.
As with many Apple apps, simplicity is the key. You could be forgiven for thinking it’s less capable than it really is. Here are a few tips to get more out the Notes app;
Multiple Device Notes
This is where Apple Notes excels. If you start a note on one device, it’s almost instantaneously on all your other devices too. Notes made using the Apple Pencil take a little longer to appear, but the typed text appears within a second or two. Changes made on another device are briefly shown highlighted with yellow too, so you can visually see the changes that have been made. This feature is intended for collaboration purposes – two people working on the same note at once.
Share and Collaborate on a Note
Speaking of collaboration, this is another area Apple Notes excels. While most apps allow for note sharing of some kind, apps such as Evernote don’t allow sharing of a single note – you have to share an entire folder. Single note sharing is more secure, and just plain easier for most people. By sharing a note, everyone you invite can edit the note and it’s updated across them all, and all devices, as mentioned above. It’s especially useful for sharing a shopping list with your partner, for example!
To collaborate on a note, simply select the note you want to share, choose the collaborate button and you’re done.
Link to or Bookmark a Note
Whether this is a good thing or not is I guess down to personal preference and your own workflow. You have to ‘pretend’ to share a note, but in doing so you’re given the option to generate a link to it. The downside is that the link goes to the iCloud web version of the note on MacOS. That is virtually identical to the apps visually, but in an ideal world, it would be better if the note opened on the device app instead. Fortunately, clicking the link on an iOS device does indeed open the note within the app itself.
If like me, you find yourself with hundreds, or even thousands, of notes – then folders rapidly become indispensable. There is seemingly no limit to the number of folders or subfolders you can have. Unfortunately, while you can create folders on all versions of the app – iOS devices include, nested folders can only be created on the Mac OS app. Nested folders will show on all devices, you just can’t add new ones on iOS devices.
Use Checkboxes for Lists
I’ve used the notes app on my phone for years, and I only recently realised I could do this. It makes shopping lists, or to-do lists so much easier! It’s so much satisfying to check off an item, rather than simply deleting it from a note. To add checkboxes, place the cursor on any line and click the checkbox (‘tick’) icon at the top. It does this on a single line basis, but hitting return at the end of each item will automatically add the checkbox to the new line.
Completed tasks are highlighted and marked with a tick mark.
This isn’t a feature as such, though I’d expect something along these lines at some stage in the future. If you have or expect to have, a huge list of notes then being able to easily find them is important. While notes can be searched, the entire contents of all notes are searched – which can throw up many more results than you need. By adding #Hashtags to notes, you can refine searching with more ease.
Apple Pencil Integration
One of the key reasons I’ve chosen Apple Notes as my default note app is the way it works with the Apple Pencil. My wife gifted me one of these for Christmas, and I absolutely adore it. I’m very much a ‘pen and paper’ type of person – especially for quick notes or reminders – but the Pencil works so well, and feels so good, that I haven’t written a single note using a pen since.
It’s perhaps to be expected that the combination of an Apple Pencil, with Apple Notes, on an Apple iPad, would be the best combination. Indeed, for me, it is. I tried a few other apps, including Evernote, but found Apple Notes to simply work best.
On a locked iPad, simply tap the iPad screen with the pencil nib and it will instantly create and open a new note for you – no need to unlock the iPad. If you wish, you can change this behaviour so it resumes the last note created this way or the last note viewed in the notes app. That preference can be set using settings. This simple trick makes the iPad and Pencil as handy as pen and paper.
By default, the background on notes is plain white. It’s a blank slate in every sense. For typed notes, that is just fine – and indeed, that’s all you can have. However, if you’re writing or drawing with the Apple Pencil, I find a lined canvas makes it far easier to keep the writing ‘neat’ (which definitely helps with handwriting recognition!).
On iOS, you can add lines or grid backgrounds to help. There are 6 options to choose from, depending on your preference. These can only be used in combination with the Apple Pencil (or another stylus), and can’t be added using the MacOS app – but will show on all apps. Somewhat unintuitively, grids and lines are added via the ‘Share’ menu.
Apple Notes on Windows
There is no Apple Notes app for Windows users. However, they can still access and use the web version on iCloud.com. Handy for simple collaboration, such as my earlier shopping list example, or creating simple notes. They can’t, however, add attachments or upload files.