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Apple Releases Freeform for Real-Time Digital Whiteboarding Across Mac, iPad, and iPhone Devices
by Daniel Root | January 13, 2023

The News: Apple released Freeform, a new cloud-based digital whiteboard for brainstorming and collaboration across the brand’s ecosystem of devices. This new visual collaboration platform is for Mac, iPad, and iPhone users, offering integration with Facetime calls at launch. See the Press Release from Apple here.

Apple Releases Freeform for Real-Time Digital Whiteboarding Across Mac, iPad, and iPhone Devices

Analyst Take: Apple’s release of Freeform for real-time digital whiteboarding is well-timed. I see this as a great solution in a fragmented market and one that I believe will work to familiarize the consumer market with digital whiteboard collaboration. One of the key differentiators of Freeform is how it leverages hardware benefits from the Apple product portfolio, being designed specifically for Mac, iPad, and iPhone users. This differentiation is similar to that of the Microsoft Whiteboard, as both benefit from form factor alignment in ways that independent software vendors (ISVs) have yet to match. As with all products designed for the Apple ecosystem, this approach makes it easy to connect with others using Apple devices and even includes integration with Facetime calls, encouraging users to try and share the platform with friends and family. The introduction of Freeform is a proof-point of the power of visual collaboration, and the development of this market segment.

The Status Of The Market For Enterprise Focused Real-Time Digital Whiteboarding

Let’s take a quick look at the status of the market for enterprise focused real-time digital whiteboarding capabilities. While enterprise focused offerings have been growing quickly since 2020, the consumer market has added users through free or freemium offerings. These consumer offerings work to familiarize individuals with this new medium of collaboration but typically struggle to scale, and lack the security needed for enterprise deployments. More recently, online meeting vendors Zoom, RingCentral, and Cisco began including digital whiteboards in some fashion for paid and guest users. While these offerings work well, they are limited in how well they incorporate a device’s form factor because they are required to work on a wide variety of hardware.

By contrast, offerings by Apple and Microsoft leverage a device’s form factor in ways others cannot, such as hardware-based shortcuts and pen rendering capabilities. The limitation of Microsoft and Apple is found in the walled-garden approach, as Mac users cannot natively use Microsoft Whiteboard, and Freeform is only available on Apple devices. While expanded functionality of integrated hardware and software makes a great experience, the limitations of who can interact with you in the session make these tools difficult to deploy at scale.

What’s Ahead For Apple’s Freeform

What’s ahead for Apple’s Freeform? Freeform’s initial release included functionality that Apple competitors have largely struggled with. From text editing to pressure sensitive pen responses, Apple’s Freeform is already caught up to the most advanced offerings from a user experience perspective. Additional functionality at launch includes sticky notes, pictures, file formats, and an infinite canvas. Including FaceTime integration at launch is another win for Apple, as most competing vendors created new protocols for video or leveraged their own video platform, causing friction among users along the way. This new offering is an end-to-end solution for Apple’s consumer users.

I see Freeform as exciting, for both Apple and the market as a whole — more choice and better alignment usually lead to an increase in usage. Down the road, it would be great to see a variant of Apple’s Freeform software made available to non-Apple users, which would make it more viable in the enterprise. The walled garden approach is a great way to catch up to competitors in short order but does little to move the needle on integrated experiences across a diverse ecosystem. Companies like Apple and Microsoft will lead the market in ease of use, and branded hardware and software integrations, but will lag enterprise offerings like Miro, Mural, Figma, and Stormboard when it comes to multi-vendor environments.

Disclosure: Wainhouse Research, part of The Futurum Group family of companies, is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.

Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of Wainhouse Research as a whole.

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The original version of this article was first published on Wainhouse Research.

About the Author

Daniel Root is a Senior Analyst with Wainhouse – A Futurum Group company. His area of expertise is digital workplace and workforce communications technologies and services.