The built-in Notes app on iPhone and iPad has become a powerful tool for organization. In iOS 11, Apple is adding features that could help it compete against more popular note-taking apps like OneNote and Evernote.
Today we’ll look at some of the features in iOS 11, and how to use them.
Improved Formatting in Notes
Formatting text in previous versions of Notes was pretty limited. You could apply Title, Heading or Body styles using the Formatting button. Bold, Italics, and Underline could be applied if you tapped and held on selected text to access the popup menu.
Notes in iOS 11 gets some additional formatting options, such as Strikethrough and Monospaced. The dashed, bulleted, and numbered lists are still available. But, now you can also increase or decrease the text indent. Indenting inside a list will adjust the list item markings, providing a basic outlining feature in Notes.
Tables in Notes
Support for tables has finally been added to Notes in iOS 11, allowing you to better organize the information in your notes. You can create and edit them and add and delete rows and columns.
Tables coming in https://t.co/kMi3UK5a68 in iOS 11. Not sure how serious you want your notes but the notes app has covered my needs.
— Hjalti Jakobsson (@hjaltij) July 18, 2017
Tap the table button to insert a two-by-two table at the cursor. When you tap in a cell, three-dot menu buttons appear next to the row and above the column where the cursor is. Use these menu buttons to insert and delete rows and columns.
You can copy or delete an entire table, convert the table to text, and even share your table to other apps like Mail, Message, Facebook, and Twitter.
Sometimes is easier to jot something down instead of typing it. In previous versions of Notes, you could either type or draw in a note, but not both — so you would have to create a new note to draw something.
Tried out drawing on the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil today for the first time in the Notes app. Nice! pic.twitter.com/5jHA51k4rj
— Sebastian (@sebastianmetel) July 20, 2017
In iOS 11, you can type in a note, draw something in the same note, and then continue typing, if you want. Simply tap the pen icon in the lower-right corner and start drawing. Tap the X icon in the same place to go back to typing.
If you wanted to draw in Notes before, you had to create a new note. In iOS 11, you can type some text and then draw something in the same note. This gets even better if you’ve got an iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil.
Pin Notes to the Top of the List
As you add new notes to your notebooks or change existing ones in Notes, they are added or moved to the top of the list. So, any important notes you refer to often keep getting pushed down the list unless you change them.
Huh. TIL you can pin notes in Notes to the top of their folder. Is that an iOS 11 thing or has that been there forever?
— Steve T-S (@stroughtonsmith) July 11, 2017
Notes in iOS 11 now provides the ability to pin notes to the top of the list. Swipe right on a note and tap the thumbtack icon. The Pinned heading appears and all your pinned notes stay at the top of the list even when you add new notes or change existing ones.
You can pin multiple notes. Be careful, though. If you pin too many, it will start getting hard to find notes in your pinned list.
Swipe to Lock a Note
If you’re concerned about protecting information in your notes, Notes provides a way to encrypt your notes by locking them individually.
Locking notes in the Notes app used to require use of the share sheet when the note was open. Now, locking notes has gotten easier. You don’t have to open a note to lock it, just swipe the note to the left in the list and then tap the Lock icon.
Lines and Grids for Notes
If you like taking handwritten notes, the new Lines & Grids feature will be very useful. You can apply various lined or grid patterns to the background of a note, making it like writing on a lined notepad.
This feature will be especially useful for iPad Pro users who also use the Apple Pencil. You can turn your iPad Pro into a full-size, lined notebook. If you don’t have the Pencil, you can use almost any other stylus to write on the lines or grid. I used the non-powered, non-Bluetooth Adonit Jot Pro stylus to test it out.
Open a new or existing note and tap the Share icon at the top of the screen. Next, tap the Lines & Grid icon on the share sheet. Select from lines and grids of different sizes in the Lines & Grids dialog box. To remove the lines or grid, tap the blank page. Removing lines or a grid from a note does not delete the note’s content.
Search Handwritten Notes
Whether you take handwritten notes on an iPad Pro using the Apple Pencil, or on an iPad Air or Mini with a regular stylus, being able to search through your handwritten notes is very useful. Notes in iOS 11 allows you to do just that.
There is no optical character recognition (OCR) feature in Notes and you can’t convert handwriting into text, but you can search through your handwritten notes.
All handwritten notes are indexed with Spotlight. Type a word or phrase in the Spotlight box on your iPhone or iPad and you’ll see notes listed that contain the handwritten version of what you typed in Spotlight.
Handwritten notes are also synced via iCloud, so any notes you handwrote on your iPad will be searchable on your iPhone, and vice versa.
Scan Documents Into Notes Using Your Device’s Camera
If you like to scan documents like receipts into your iPhone to keep them handy and organized, there are several apps that fill that bill. With iOS 11, Apple’s Notes app now joins that crew.
Create a new note or open an existing one, then tap the plus icon followed by Scan Documents. Notes will ask to access your camera. Take a picture of the document and adjust the frame that displays over the image to include the part of the image you want. Tap Keep Scan and then Save.
The scanned document is inserted into the note and labeled as Scanned Documents.
Mark Up Documents as PDF
The Notes app in iOS 11 now allows you to scan a document, as we mentioned above, and then mark it up as a PDF file. This feature is useful for signing, annotating, and editing PDF documents.
Once you’ve scanned a document into a note, you can mark it up as a PDF file. Make sure the note with the scanned document is open. Tap the Share icon and then tap the Create PDF icon.
The PDF file opens. To markup the PDF document, tap the pen icon in the upper-right corner of the screen to access the drawing tools. Tap Done when you’re finished marking up the scanned document then choose where you want to save the file to.
You can also share the note containing the scanned, marked up PDF document using share sheet.
Drag and Drop Between Notes
If you’ve discovered you scanned a document or typed text into the wrong note, the drag-and-drop feature added to Notes in iOS 11 can help you. You can easily drag elements like text, scanned documents, images, and more from one note into another. This works on both iPhone and iPad.
Simply, tap and hold on an element to select it. It’s now docked under your finger. You can use your other hand to select additional elements. If the note you want to move the element to is in another folder, navigate to that folder. Then, release your finger above that note.
Drag and Drop Between Apps
Drag and drop in iOS 11 also works between the Notes app and other apps, like Safari. For example, you can drag a link from Safari to a note.
There are a couple of ways you can do this. You can use Slide Over or Split View and the drag the element from Safari to Notes. Or you can long press on an element in Safari, use your other hand to open the Notes app, and then drop the element into a note.
Take Notes From the Lock Screen With Instant Notes
If you’re using an iPad Pro, you can open a new note directly from the lock screen. Tap the lock screen with your Apple Pencil when the iPad is locked to open a new note.
Your iPad is still locked and all your notes are still locked down. The note you open using the Pencil is a special note that only opens when you tap with your Pencil. To open any other note in the Notes app you’ll have to log in to your iPad.
Maybe It’s Time to Switch to Apple Notes?
With all these new features, you might want to switch from OneNote to Notes. Or maybe you’re thinking of switching from Evernote to Notes. Apple’s Notes app is on its way to becoming a serious competitor to OneNote, Evernote, and other note-taking apps.
Will you be using Apple Notes in future? What other features would you need to see to commit to it?