How to make the most of Apple Notes

Image: Samar Haddad / The Verge

Apple Notes is one of those apps you can turn to on a daily basis without ever really making full use of all the different features and functions it’s got to offer. That’s where this particular guide comes in. The idea is to point you to some of the lesser known but very useful tricks that Apple Notes can do.

I’m going to focus on the mobile app, but you’ll find most of these tips apply to the desktop version of Apple Notes on macOS as well.

Maybe you’ve got two notes that are separate but also related — one note for planning a trip, for example, and another listing various sights you want to see. Apple Notes lets you link them both together.

Open one of the notes. At the point you want to insert the link:

Long-press on the insertion point. In the pop-up menu, select Add Link. (You may need to tap on the > to see more options.)
Begin typing the title of the note you want to link to and select it when it appears.
Turn off Use Note Title as Name if you want to enter a different title for the link.
Tap Done, and you’ll see your note inserted.

Another way to insert a link is to type >> where you want to place the link. In that case, you’ll simply get a pop-up menu listing the available notes.

Now, you can tap on the note link to quickly jump to it. To delete it, tap and hold on the link, then choose Remove Link.

Embed PDFs inside notes

Notes can contain PDFs, which can be read and annotated if needed.

Screenshot: Apple Notes
PDFs can be sent to Notes from Files and other apps.

Screenshot: Apple Notes
You can read PDFs from right inside notes.

To add a PDF from another app (like Mail) to a note:

Tap on the thumbnail of the PDF in your email or other app.
Choose Share (usually in the upper-right corner) > Notes.
Select which note you want to embed the PDF in by tapping on the field below Save To. You can also start a new note by selecting Create New Note at the bottom.
Tap Save.

When you’ve got a PDF inside a note:

Tap on the down arrow next to the PDF name.
Choose Quick Look to see the PDF in full-screen mode. (You can use pinch and zoom to move around it.)
Tap View As to change the size of the embed in your note.
Pick Share or Copy to send the PDF somewhere else.
Tap Delete to remove the PDF from the note.

You can scribble on top of PDFs with the pen tool to annotate them and select and highlight text inside a PDF in the same way as normal note text.

Show lines or grids

You can bring some order to the chaos of your scribbled (but not typed) notes by dropping lines or a grid on top of everything.

Screenshot: Apple Notes
You can add a table or attachments to your note.

Screenshot: Apple Notes
Lines and grids can be added from inside open notes.

With a note open, tap the three dots (top right).
Pick Lines & Grids and choose a style.
To set the default style for new notes, choose Notes and then Lines & Grids from the iOS Settings panel.

Change the heading

By default, new notes will start with a title in a larger font at the top, but that layout might not be something you want to use. To change the way that new notes are formatted:

Open the main iOS Settings panel.
Tap Notes > New Notes Start With:
You can now pick from Title, Heading, Subheading, and Body.

Create notes quickly

If you need to jot down something as fast as possible, you can quickly create new notes from the Control Center.

From Settings on iOS, tap Control Center.
Make sure the Quick Note option is added to the active controls.
The Quick Note shortcut is now available when you swipe down from the top-right corner of the screen. (Its icon looks like a scribble inside a box.)

Lock notes away

Your iPhone’s lock screen should keep notes well protected from prying eyes, but you can add some extra security for notes that are particularly sensitive. (Note that some notes — for example, those with video, audio, tags, PDF, or file attachments — can’t be locked.)

Screenshot: Apple Notes
Locked notes are marked with a padlock symbol.

Screenshot: Apple Notes
You can set up a distinct passcode for locked notes.

Inside a note, tap the three dots (top right), then Lock. By default, locked notes can be viewed using the same passcode or biometric authentication you use to get into your iPhone. If you’d rather set a different password for Notes, tap Create Password when the Lock Notes screen comes on.

Organize notes with tags

Folders are one way to organize your notes, but tags give you a lot more flexibility because each note can have multiple tags. To tag a note, just type a hashtag (#) symbol, followed by the tag you’d like to use.

Screenshot: Apple Notes
Tags appear underneath your folders.

Screenshot: Apple Notes
You can search for notes that match any or all selected tags.

On the main Folders screen inside Apple Notes, you’ll see tags listed at the bottom: tap on any tag to see matching notes or All Tags to see every note with a tag attached. Notes lets you search for specific tags or match notes with multiple tags.

Collaborate on notes

Notes can be shared — just make sure you pick the note with the shopping list on and not the one where you’ve journaled your innermost thoughts.

To collaborate on a note you’ve got open:

Tap the share icon in the top right.
Make sure Collaborate is selected on the top of the share sheet.
Tap Only invited people can edit (below the Collaborate box) to set your options. You can pick the contact you’d like to collaborate on a note with or make the note accessible to anyone with the relevant link. You can also set whether changes can be made by other people.

Changes in notes are tracked, so you can see which collaborator has made which changes. Tap the collaborate button (which looks like a person and a plus sign) at the top of a note to modify how much tracking information is shown or to stop sharing a note.

Build a table

Tables inside notes can be useful for keeping information organized. When you’ve got a note in edit mode, tap the table button above the keyboard to drop in a table. (It looks like a simple grid.) If the toolbar above the keyboard isn’t visible, tap the + (plus) icon just above it.

Tap inside any table cell to make changes.
Tap the handle (the three dots) at the top or side of a table to select an entire row or column.
Tap the handle again to delete the row or column or to insert a new one.

When you’re inside a table, you can tap the table button again to delete, share, or copy the table or convert it to plain text.

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