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

Apple, at its developers conference this week, unveiled a digital whiteboard app to support real-time collaboration among users. The slick-looking app, named Freeform, was among the highlights offered up by Apple execs during the WWDC keynote; they described it as a collaboration tool that could be easily used for project planning or brainstorm sessions.

But could its limited reach keep Freeform from gaining traction in the enterprise, much as Apple’s FaceTime video app — unlike Zoom and Microsoft Teams — failed to reach a broad audience during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Freeform can be opened from FaceTime: from there, users can access a shared whiteboard space for note taking and drawing (there’s support for Apple Pencil), and share content such as video and PDF files.

Mouse cursors are visible to all participants, indicating in real-time where other users are focused. You can also tap on a user’s icon to quickly jump to what they’re working on — which can be useful when boards are sprawling with information.  

Freeform, which is slated to arrive later this year, will compete with numerous collaborative whiteboard apps aimed at use in the workplace. Mural and Miro are two popular standalone whiteboard apps, while Microsoft relaunched its Whiteboard app last year. Google, Zoom, ClickUp and Box are among the other software vendors that have incorporated whiteboards into their products of late.

 “With support for both real-time and asynchronous collaboration, whiteboard tools play an increasingly important role in enabling teams to innovate, brainstorm and co-create when they can’t be together — evidenced by the continued growth of startups like Miro,” said Angela Ashenden, principal analyst at CCS Insight. “By leveraging the group messaging features in iOS/iPadOS/iMacOS and allowing users to invite whole groups to collaborate, Apple seeks to remove the friction of shifting between apps and thereby improve adoption of its newer tools.”

While Freeform is comparable in functionality to other digital whiteboard tools on the market, the app’s availability only on Apple devices means it won’t have as broad a reach, said Irwin Lazar, president and principal analyst at Metrigy.

“I could see this being useful for individuals or among small teams who are all on Apple’s OS, but I don’t see it having the widespread appeal of more robust tools that are supported across iOS, Mac, and Windows,” said Lazar.

Ashenden agreed — to a point. “The catch is that of course all collaborators must be Apple users — but that is the same for all the iWork apps and we still see consistent adoption of these tools by around 5-6% of all employees in CCS Insight’s surveys,” she said.

Freeform will be available on iOS 16, iPadOS 16 and MacOS Ventura when it is released.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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