How (and Why) Switch to Apple Notes


Apple Notes is a versatile note-taking solution, and if you’re using a Mac, iPhone, or iPad, you can use it for free. Switching is relatively easy, but there are a few things to keep in mind, especially if you’re using non-Apple devices like Windows PCs or an Android smartphone.

Why use Apple Notes?

Apart from using Apple devices like the iPhone or Mac, one of the most compelling reasons to use Apple Notes is that it is completely free. Notes are stored in iCloud and synced between Apple devices, and can also be accessed over the web at iCloud.com. They count towards your iCloud storage limit, of which you get 5 GB for free, but since notes are mostly 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 associated with a free account or require a premium subscription to access the feature. There are other benefits to paying for these services, but if all you need is 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 on a daily basis. 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 and scribble tables, or highlight with your finger or stylus.

The app does away with OneNote’s powerful user approach (which is excellent and also free to use). It’s also a lot faster and generally more pleasant to use than Evernote (which is still missing a native Apple Silicon version in November 2021). You get more flexibility and features than with a minimalist solution like Simplenote.

There’s also deep integration with Apple’s Spotlight search on Mac, iOS, and iPadOS. If you’re using the app on any of Apple’s tablets, you can also expect full support for handwriting and other scribbling with your Apple Pencil. 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.

RELATED: How to Copy Text from an Image on iPhone

Things to consider before switching

If you need a serious note-taking solution like OneNote or Evernote, Apple Notes may not be enough. There is no dictation feature according to OneNote, nor is there the deep integration with other platforms that Evernote offers. You can only sync via iCloud, and keeping your Apple gadgets up to date with the latest versions of macOS, iOS, and iPadOS is essential for Notes to work properly.

Apple Notes is also a very Apple focused 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 (which is usable, but far from a native app).

Apple Notes also offers few export options, which means it’s a little hard to get stuff out of the ecosystem once you’ve been using it for a while. You can export each note individually to separate PDF files, but that’s cumbersome. Third party apps like Exporter and Notes Exporter fill the gap here, but there’s no native way to do it in Apple’s app.

iCloud is another consideration. If your Notes collection blows up, be prepared to pay for iCloud storage if you don’t already. An extra 50GB costs just $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 you’ll need to export your notes to the Files app or email files to yourself and import them that way. Some apps like Evernote don’t allow you to export more than one note at a time on mobile, so using a Mac will make your life much easier.

Move your notes to Apple Notes

We recommend using a Mac for this. An iPhone can be used to import Evernote ENEX files, but other file types are added as attachments to notes 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 can also import TXT, RTF, RTFD, and HTML files as new notes using the File > Import into Notes option.

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 and then export those notes from Evernote in ENEX format. Allows you to import OneNote data to Apple Notes, using Evernote as the middleware.

The Apple Notes equivalent of Evernote notebooks are folders, so an easy way to maintain your organizational structure is to export your Evernote notebooks one at a time. To do this, launch Evernote for Mac and select the notebook you want to export. Press Command + A or Edit > Select All followed by File > Export Notes.

Choose the ENEX format and save your file (give it a name that you will associate with that notebook). Now go to Apple Notes and click on File > Import into Notes. Your notes will be imported and placed in a folder called “Imported Notes”, complete with data as 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 matches your original notebook. Do this as many times as necessary for all of your notebooks, making sure to rename the “Imported Notes” folder each time to keep the order.

To import ENEX files to an iPhone or iPad, add the file to your iCloud Drive and open it with files, or email it to an email account that you can access on your iPhone. Tap the file to open it, followed by Share > Notes. Tap “Import Notes” to complete the operation. You have an “Imported Notes” folder that you can now rename.

Organize things with Apple Notes

There are two ways to organize 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, except for personal things.

Tags differ in that they can be used to find things in different folders and can be used to set up smart folders based on tags. For example, it’s easy to find all your receipts, both personal and work-related, by tagging them with the #receipt tag. You can set up a smart folder to filter by the same tag, which will display all matching notes regardless of which folder they are in.

Folders and tags appear 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 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 (accessed 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 the note title). Tags must be one continuous word, and if you want multiple words, you must use dashes or underscores. You can select multiple notes on iPhone (More > Select Notes) and Mac (Command+Click) and then apply existing tags using the “Tags” button on mobile or right-click menu on Mac.

Create a smart folder using the “New Folder” button and select “New Smart Folder” and then enter the tag you want to use to filter your notes.

Additional Features You Should Be Using

Apple Notes has been made useful through some extra features that some note-taking apps don’t have or put behind a paywall. On mobile devices such as the iPhone or iPad, Notes can be used as a document scanner. Create a new note, tap the camera icon, then choose the “Scan Documents” icon. You can also sketch with the “pen” icon.

You can access these features from the Mac app by clicking the “Picture” icon, but you need to complete the action on your mobile device.

Another useful feature is the ability to lock notes. On a mobile device, tap a note and then use the More > Lock option. You can unlock notes with a password (also called your Notes password, which is set when you lock something for the first time) or Touch ID/Face ID if you’ve set it up.

On a Mac, there is a special “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 is synced through iCloud and you can’t recover it if you forget it (but you can create a new password and then throw away your old locked notes).

Collaboration features are also provided, 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 Apple Notes mobile, Mac, or web.

You can even share entire folders under Edit > More > Share Folder on a mobile device or by right-clicking a folder on a Mac and choosing “Share this Folder” to give another party access to all notes in it.

RELATED: Collaborate on Notes in macOS

Give Apple Notes a try

If you can overcome 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 useful for casual users who don’t need Microsoft Office functional levels.

But there’s more! On iPhone or iPad, you can embed and quickly create notes, handwrite notes, and draw perfect shapes.

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