Apple Notes is a feature-rich note-taking solution and if you use a Mac, iPhone, or iPad you can use it for free. Switching is relatively straightforward, but there are a few things to keep in mind especially if you use non-Apple devices like Windows PCs or an Android smartphone.
Why Use Apple Notes?
Aside from using Apple devices like the iPhone or Mac, one of the most compelling reasons for using Apple Notes is that it is completely free. Notes are stored in iCloud and sync between Apple devices, and are also accessible via the web at iCloud.com. They will count against your iCloud storage limit, of which you get 5GB for free, but since notes are mostly comprised of text they take up very little space.
This is different from other note-taking services like Evernote or Bear which either limit the number of devices linked to a free account or require a premium subscription to access the feature at all. There are other benefits to paying for these services, but if you only need a simple note-taking solution Apple Notes might be the better choice.
Notes is a simple app but it doesn’t skimp on the features most users would use daily. There’s support for file attachments, embeds for media like images and maps, note sharing and collaboration, and some security features to keep your Notes hidden from prying eyes. You can format text, create checklists, draw tables, and scribble or highlight using your finger or stylus.
The app stops short of the power-user approach taken by OneNote (which is excellent, and also free to use). It’s also a lot faster and generally more pleasant to use than Evernote (which still lacks a native Apple Silicon version in November 2021). You get more flexibility and features than you do with a minimalist solution like Simplenote.
There’s also deep integration with Apple’s Spotlight search on Mac, iOS, and iPadOS. If you are using the app on one of Apple’s tablets you can expect full support for handwriting and other scribblings with your Apple Pencil too. PDF and image attachments include support for OCR (optical character recognition) so you can find text in images by searching as you would any other note. You can also convert your handwriting to text thanks to the same OCR engine.
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Things to Consider Before Switching
If you need a serious note-taking solution like OneNote or Evernote, Apple Notes might not be enough. There’s no dictation feature as per OneNote, nor is there the deep integration with other platforms that Evernote provides. You can only sync via iCloud, and keeping your Apple gadgets up to date with the latest version of macOS, iOS, and iPadOS is integral to keeping Notes working as it should.
Apple Notes is also a very Apple-centric platform. This is worth considering if you need a note-taking solution for platforms like Windows or Android. There’s no native version of Apple Notes for these devices, so you’re stuck using the web version instead (which is usable, but a far cry from a native app).
Apple Notes also provides little in the way of export options, which means it’s a bit difficult to get things out of the ecosystem once you’ve used it for a while. You can export each note individually to separate PDF files, but that’s laborious. Third-party apps like Exporter and Notes Exporter fill the gap here, but there’s no native way to do this in Apple’s app.
iCloud is another consideration. If your Notes collection balloons then you’ll need to be prepared to pay for iCloud storage if you don’t already do so. An additional 50GB is only $0.99 per month, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
Finally, switching to Apple Notes from an existing platform like Evernote or OneNote is much easier on a Mac. On an iPhone, your options are limited and require that you export your notes to the Files app or email yourself files and import them that way. Some apps like Evernote don’t allow you to export more than a single note at a time on mobile, so using a Mac will make your life much easier.
Moving Your Notes to Apple Notes
We recommend using a Mac to do this. An iPhone can be used to import Evernote ENEX files, but other file types will be added to notes as attachments rather than imported as text.
Apple Notes can import Evernote ENEX (individual notes and notebooks) on both Mac and iPhone or iPad. On a Mac you ca can also import TXT, RTF, RTFD, and HTML files as new notes via the File > Import to Notes option.
Having support for the Evernote ENEX format is a great tool to have at your disposal. If you want to switch from OneNote to Apple Notes, you can use Evernote to import your notes from OneNote, then export those notes from Evernote in the ENEX format. This allows you to import OneNote data to Apple Notes, using Evernote as middleware.
The Apple Notes equivalent of Evernote notebooks are folders, so one easy way to maintain your organization structure is to export your Evernote notebooks one by one. To do this, launch Evernote for Mac and select the notebook you want to export. Hit Command+A or Edit > Select All followed by File > Export Notes.
Choose the ENEX format and save your file (give it a name you’ll associate with that notebook). Now head to Apple Notes and click File > Import to Notes. Your notes will be imported and placed in a folder called “Imported Notes” complete with data like when your note was first created.
You can now right-click (or Control+click) the folder and select “Rename” and give it a name that reflects your original notebook. Do this as many times as you need for all of your notebooks, making sure to change the name of the “Imported Notes” folder each time to maintain order.
To import ENEX files on an iPhone or iPad, add the file to your iCloud Drive and access it with files, or email it to an email account you have access to on your iPhone. Tap on the file to open it followed by Share > Notes. Tap “Import Notes” to complete the operation. You’ll have an “Imported Notes” folder you can now rename.
Organizing Things With Apple Notes
There are two main ways of organizing things in Apple Notes: folders and tags. Folders create easy dividing lines between different types of notes. For example, you can keep all work-related notes in a “Work” folder, excluding personal things entirely.
Tags are different in that they can be used to find things across different folders, and be used to set up smart folders based on tags. So for example it’s easy to find all of your receipts, both personal and work-related, by tagging them with the #receipt tag. You could set up a smart folder to filter by the same tag, which would list all matching notes regardless of which folder they are in.
Folders and tags are listed on the “home” screen of the Notes app for iPhone and iPad, and in the sidebar of the Mac app. You can tap or click on a folder or a note to filter content. You can move a note from one folder to another using the “More” context menu on both platforms (accessible via the “…” ellipsis icon on mobile devices, and right-click menu on a Mac).
Tags must be added to the body of a note using the hashtag format (including note title). Tags must be one continuous word, and if you want multiple words you’ll need to use dashes or underscores. You can select multiple notes on iPhone (More > Select Notes) and Mac (Command+click) then apply existing tags using the “Tags” button on mobile or the right-click menu on a Mac.
Create a smart folder using the “New Folder” button and select “New Smart Folder” then enter the tag you want to use to filter your notes.
Extra Features You Should Be Using
Apple Notes is made useful by way of some additional features that some note-taking apps either don’t have or put behind a paywall. On mobile devices like the iPhone or iPad, Notes can be used as document scanner. Create a new note, tap on the camera icon, then choose the “Scan Documents” icon. You can sketch using the “pen” icon too.
You can call on these functions from the Mac app by clicking on the “Image” icon, but you’ll need to complete the action on your mobile device.
Another useful feature is the ability to lock notes. On a mobile device tap on a note then use the More > Lock option. You’ll be able to unlock notes with a password (known as your Notes password, which is set up the first time you lock something) or Touch ID/Face ID if you’ve set it up.
On a Mac, there’s a dedicated “Lock” button in the top row of icons while viewing a note. Your password can be set under Notes > Preferences, or you can use Touch ID if your Mac has a fingerprint scanner. The password will sync via iCloud, and you can’t recover it if you forget it (but you can create a new one, then discard your old locked notes).
Collaboration features are also present, and you can add others to your note using the “Share This Note With Others” button that appears in both versions of the app while editing a note. Anyone you add will receive an invitation to collaborate and can use the mobile, Mac, or web versions of Apple Notes to do so.
You can even share whole folders under Edit > More > Share Folder on a mobile device or simply by right-clicking a folder on a Mac and choosing “Share This Folder” to give another party access to any notes within.
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Give Apple Notes a Shot
If you can get over being locked into another facet of Apple’s ecosystem, there’s a lot to love about Apple Notes. While it doesn’t quite match the do-everything nature of OneNote, it’s arguably more usable for casual users who don’t need Microsoft Office levels of functionality.
But there’s more! On iPhone or iPad you can embed and quickly create notes, take notes using handwriting, and draw perfect shapes.