Apple Notes is perhaps the best free note-taking app you can use, provided you have an iPhone or a Mac (ideally both). The app is packed with features that many note-taking apps charge money for, so if you’re not using it yet, you might want to give it a try.
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 all recordings to iCloud. This allows you to access them on almost any device shortly after you finish scanning.
To do this, open a new note and tap the camera icon at the bottom of the screen. Select “Scan Documents” from the menu that appears, then point the camera at what you’re trying to scan and wait. This works best if you place the document against a contrasting background, for example, a white piece of paper on a dark table.
You can also select “Scan Text” from the camera menu if you’d rather take a copy of the editable text and place it directly into the note. This allows you to edit the text as if you had typed it yourself. It’s especially useful for grabbing quotes from books you want to paste into a document, or for quickly grabbing large chunks of text so you can search through them for keywords.
RELATED: How to scan documents using the Notes app for iPhone
Draw perfect shapes freehand
You can use the markup tools in Notepad to scribble and draw on your iPhone or iPad. Tap the pen icon at the bottom of the screen and use various pens and other tools to write and draw. On iPad with Apple Pencil, you can write handwritten notes, draw freehand, and use a ruler to create perfectly straight lines.
But did you know that you can also draw perfect shapes? To do this, draw the shape as you normally would, but don’t take your finger (or stylus) off the screen. Hold your finger or pen 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.
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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 feature list is pretty comprehensive. You can share and collaborate on notes in real time, just like you would in Google Docs. To do this, you’ll need to be signed in to your Apple ID with a note open. On iPhone, tap the ellipsis “…” icon in the top right corner, then tap “Share Note,” and on Mac, you can just tap the “Share Note” button that looks like a person’s head with a plus icon next to it.
In the next stage, you’ll be able to specify whether you want to share the note with editing privileges (marked with “Can edit”) or as “View Only” with the option to limit whether the person you’re sharing it with can share it with multiple people. You can send an invitation using a range of apps including Messages, Mail, Facebook or simply by copying a link that you can forward to someone in any other way.
When you share a note with someone, you can use the @mention format to tag them and get detailed analysis of the changes made to the notes.
Share (and collaborate on) entire folders
You can move a note to a specific folder using the ellipsis “…” context menu on an iPhone or iPad, or by right-clicking on a note on a Mac and selecting “Move To”. If you often collaborate with someone on something and would rather not share each note individually, but as an entire collection, you can share a folder instead.
After creating a specific folder, you can share the folder on your iPhone or iPad by swiping left on it from the top-level Folders screen. Tap the blue “Share” icon (it looks like a person’s head with a plus arrow next to it), then share it like you would a regular note. You can do the same from a Mac by right-clicking on a folder in the sidebar and selecting 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 that work identically, and you can use them in Apple Notes as well. Here, they allow you to merge notes regardless of the folder you used to organize them thanks to tags.
Tagging notes in Apple Mail must be done within the body of the note itself using the #hashtag format. By sharing tags across your notes collection, you can create a new smart folder to filter by tags and merge relevant items. So, for example, you might want to tag all receipts with #receipt, but separate them into separate work and personal folders. If you want to show all receipts at tax time regardless of where they’re stored, you can create a smart folder that pulls and shows only notes tagged with #receipt.
Create a smart folder just like a normal folder. On an iPhone or iPad, tap the “New Folder” icon in the lower-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 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 your devices.
Make a quick note
You can take notes on your iPhone or iPad by adding the Apple Notes widget to your home screen. To create a quick note, you can add the New Note shortcut to the Control Center. To do this, go to Settings > Control Center and tap the green plus “+” icon next to the “Notes” option. You can drag it up and down the list to change the order in which 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 the Home button to reveal the Control Center.
On a Mac, you can use the Quick Note corner shortcut (enabled by default) in macOS Monterey. You will find this option under System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver > Hot Corners. When enabled, drag the pointer to the highlighted corner and click to create a new note. These notes will be stored in the “Quick Notes” folder until you reorganize them.
Access notes from the web
If you store 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 while it’s not as good as the native app, it’s perfect for a small moment when you’re not far from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
Pin useful notes
If you have notes that you need to refer to frequently, whether it’s reviewing information or making changes, you can pin them so they always appear at the top of your list. This will ensure that you don’t lose them among all the other notes because Apple Notes organizes everything in chronological order. It’s especially useful if you need to read information from a note without editing it because viewing the note won’t “raise” it to the top in the same way that editing the note will.
To pin a note on iPhone or iPad, open it, then tap the context menu with the ellipsis “…” 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 won’t appear pinned on iCloud.com.
Find the text inside the note
If you have particularly long notes, it can be difficult to swipe through them to find something specific. Luckily, 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 the ellipsis button “…” and select “Find in Note” to search within the body of the note.
On macOS, you can simply use the Command+F keyboard shortcut to search a note as you would a web page.
RELATED: 35+ Mac keyboard shortcuts for text editing to speed up your typing
Apple shortcut integration
Apple Shortcuts is a powerful tool for iOS and macOS devices that allows you to 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 “Add to Note” to add more details to an existing note, “Create Note” to start a new note, and “Show Note” and “Show Notes Folder” to display information.
How you use this integration depends on what you want to do. Some use it to speed up their journaling process, capture geotagging and weather information, or automate a daily to-do list. With Shortcuts automation, you can use Notes to record how many times 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 usually use Evernote, you can switch to Apple Notes quite easily by exporting collections one at a time. If you don’t use Evernote, you may need to use it as a stepping stone to transition from something like OneNote.