Apple’s Freeform adds another digital whiteboard option for remote work

Apple, at its developer conference this week, unveiled a digital whiteboard app to support real-time collaboration between users. The sleek-looking app called Freeform was one of the highlights provided by Apple Axis during the WWDC Keynote; They described it as a collaborative tool that could easily be used for project planning or brainstorm sessions.

But could its limited reach prevent Freeform from gaining traction in the enterprise, as Apple’s FaceTime video app – unlike Zoom and Microsoft Teams – failed to reach a wider audience during the COVID-19 epidemic?

FreeTime can be opened from FaceTime: From there, users can access a shared whiteboard space for taking notes and drawing (there is support for Apple Pencil), and share content such as videos and PDF files.

Mouse cursors are visible to all participants, pointing to real-time where other users are focusing. You can also tap on the user’s icon to quickly jump to what they’re working on – which can be useful when the boards are expanded with information.

Freeform, which is due out later this year, will compete with a number of partner whiteboard apps for workplace use. Mural and Miro are two popular standalone whiteboard apps, Microsoft relaunched its whiteboard app last year. Google, Zoom, ClickUp and Box are among the other software vendors who have recently incorporated whiteboards into their products.

“With support for both real-time and asynchronous collaboration, Whiteboard tools play an increasingly important role in enabling teams to innovate, think and co-create when they can’t be together – as evidenced by the continued growth of startups like Miro,” said Angela. Ashenden, chief analyst at CCS Insight. “By using the group messaging feature on iOS / iPadOS / iMacOS and allowing the whole group of users to collaborate, Apple wants to eliminate the friction between migration between apps and thus improve its acceptance of new tools.”

While the FreeForm is comparable in functionality to other digital whiteboard tools on the market, the app’s availability on Apple devices alone doesn’t mean it will have that wide reach, says Irwin Lazarus, president and chief analyst at Metrics.

“I find it useful for individuals or small groups that have Apple’s OS, but I don’t see it as a widespread application of the more powerful tools supported across iOS, Mac and Windows,” Lazarus said.

Ashenden agrees – at one point. “The catch is that all partners must be Apple users – but it’s the same for all iWork apps and we still see about 5-6% of all employees consistently accepting these tools in a CCS Insight survey,” he said.

The freeform will be available when released on iOS 16, iPadOS 16 and MacOS Ventura.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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