Apple Notes Beginner’s User Guide (iPhone)

Orientation

Although Apple Notes is a minimalist app, it has a homepage on the iPhone version of the app where you can see all your folders. Tapping a folder opens it so you can see all the notebooks it contains. The folder name appears above the search bar at the top of the screen, and the notebooks in that folder go below that. To open your notes, simply tap on them, and the app takes you to the app’s workspace, where you write and edit your notes in Apple Notes. The back icon (top left corner of the app) closes the notebook, taking you back to your folder and then to the homepage of the app, where all your folders are. 

Your folders are saved in your iCloud account by default. To save your folder on your device, go to iPhone Settings > Notes > and turn on “On My iPhone” Account. Adding all your folders (and their notebooks) in iCloud syncs across all your Apple devices using the same Apple ID. Notes under On My iPhone are local; they don’t sync across devices.

New folders

Before taking notes, you must create folders for your notebooks. Tap the new folder icon (bottom left corner of the app), and choose the location for your new folder: On My iPhone or iCloud. You can then name your new folder and tap Done to save it.

New notebooks

Choose the folder to which you want to add a new notebook, then tap the new notebook icon (bottom right corner), and you can start taking notes. To change the paper template for your notebook, go to the three-dots icon (top toolbar), then Lines & Grids, and choose the template you want. Apple Notes has three line-spacing options for your lined and squared paper.

Typing notes

On the iPhone, you will mostly type your notes as body text. It goes directly to the page and does not mix with other items in your notes. To structure your notes, go to the Aa icon on the keyboard toolbar to add a Title, Heading, or Subheading. Putting your cursor on your text can also convert it to a Title, Heading, or Subheading. You can also add a Body (which is a normal paragraph) or Monostyled text if you’re writing code. You can format your text (select it first) to make it bold, italic, underline, or strikeout.

Apple Notes supports numbered and unnumbered lists. You can convert a paragraph to a list (place your cursor on it and tap the list icon) or create a new list from scratch (place your cursor on an empty space). Levels in your list are easy to create using the indentation tools (icons after the numbered list icon). They are also easy to understand because bullet points change as you add levels to your list. Apple Notes uses eight bullet point types. Dashed lists don’t change when you add hierarchies. They are, therefore, ideal for taking basic notes. Numbered lists have one type of numbering that doesn’t change with levels.

You can add quotes using the quotation icon (bottom right corner). When you’re done formatting your notes, tap the X icon to bring back the keyboard, which has a toolbar with more features for your text. Tap the checklist icon to create a simple to-do list in your notes. Like your numbered lists, levels don’t change the checkbox type. You can check them off as you complete them. They can automatically move to the bottom of the list. To turn on this animation, go to your iPhone Settings > Notes > Sort Checked Items > and choose to do it Automatically.

Adding tables

You can add tables to your notes in Apple Notes. Go to the table icon on the keyboard toolbar to add a 2×2 table. That is the default table Apple Notes creates each time you create a new table. You can also select some text you want included in your table, then tap the table icon to create a new table with the text in it. You can add more rows and columns by going to the three-dots icons to select a row or column. Tapping on the three-dots icon again for your column brings up a popup menu with options to Delete Column or Add Column. You can do the same to add new rows to your table.

Once you have added some information to your table, you format all the text in a row or column at once by going to the three-dots icon to select the row/column first. Then tap it again to bring up the popup menu, and go to Format to make your text Bold, Italic, Underline, or Strikethrough. To format words in a single cell, double-tap or long-press the cursor to bring up a popup menu, Select All and go to Format. You can also Copy or Cut the text to paste it anywhere.

Manually selecting all the text in a cell automatically selects multiple rows and columns. Drag the dots on the selection to adjust what you want to select. To edit your whole table, place a cursor anywhere on the table, then to the table icon on the keyboard toolbar. You can then Delete Table or Convert to Text to remove the table but keep the text. You can Share Table out of the app or Copy Table to paste it anywhere. Not all apps support tables, though. Bear that in mind when you’re pasting the table.

Handwriting notes

Apple Notes has a toolbar with handwriting tools that lets you write notes with your finger or a stylus. Tap the pen icon on the keyboard toolbar to bring it up. In reading mode (when you’re not typing), it is located on the bottom toolbar. However, due to the screen size of your iPhone, these writing tools are more useful on the iPad using the Apple Pencil. It, therefore, makes more sense to handwrite notes on the iPad and sync them to your iPhone.

Pages in Apple Notes are vertically infinite but have a fixed width. They continue extending downward as you type without needing to add any new pages. If you choose to handwrite your notes, you have page template options under the three-dots icon (top left corner). Go to Lines & Grids, and choose a page template like you would on the iPad. This handwriting section of your page is the only part of your notebook that can mix text with other items on the page. The body text section can’t do that.

Adding items to your notes (intermediate)

Shapes

On your iPhone, you can draw shapes with your finger using the writing tools in Apple Notes or add them with the shapes tool. In both cases, you have to bring up your writing tools (tap the pen icon on the keyboard toolbar). For hand-drawn shapes, draw a shape and keep your finger pressed on the screen until it transforms. To use the shapes tool, go to the plus icon (far right side of the writing toolbar) and Add Shape. You can add your shapes from the available options. Shapes do not mix with typed notes, though. They can only be added to the handwriting sections of your notebook.

When you select a shape in your notes (tap on it), the yellow dots let you resize, stretch, or shrink it. A green dot also appears on some shapes, which changes the number of sides in your shape or the appearance of the shape, depending on the shape in question. It can also change the curvature of arrows. A shape can even have two green dots to adjust both (e.g. the star). The three-dots icon (top right corner of a selected shape) lets you Cut, Copy, Duplicate, or Delete the shape. You can also move the shape around the page.

To modify your shape, tap on it and bring up its customisation options under the writing toolbar (pen icon) at the bottom of the screen. Starting from left to right, you can change the border colour using the Grid, Spectrum, Sliders, hex code, or colour picker (top right corner). You can also adjust the opacity of your colour. Apple Notes also has some presets you can use quickly for your colours. You can adjust them by selecting a colour and personalising it. Tapping the plus icon adds your custom colour to the presets, and long-pressing prompts you to Delete colours.

Next, in your customisation options, you can change the border thickness, which ranges from 1pt to 30pt. You can change or remove the fill colour (circle with a forward slash). Apple Notes can also remove the border for your shapes the same way it removes fill colour (under the shape border colour options). The last customisation option changes the opacity of the whole shape.

For arrows, you can modify their line thickness and colour. You can also remove arrowheads and add them to one or both ends of the line. When you have finished, tap Done (top right corner) to close the customisation options for your shapes tool.

Text boxes

You can add typed notes next to your shapes in text boxes if you want to mix the two. To get started, bring up the handwriting tools (tap the pen icon), and go to the plus icon to Add Text. Drag the yellow dots on the text box to rearrange its text. You can also move the text box around the page (tap anywhere on it).

To edit the text, tap the text box to bring up the customisation toolbar at the bottom of the screen. From left to right: you can change the font of your text (Aa icon). The font size ranges from 5 to 300 points. You can align your text left, centre, right, or justify. Formatting makes the text bold, italic, underlined, or strikeout. You can also change the colour of your text.

To format some of your text in the textbox but not all of it, select it to bring up a popup menu, go to the forward arrow and Format. You can make your text Bold, Italic, and Underline. The three-dots icon on the text box lets you Cut, Copy, Duplicate, or Delete it.

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