Skip to Content
© Prykhodov |
Kim's column

5 incredibly useful things you didn’t know Apple Notes could do

I bet you’re making more lists of things (work, home, groceries, kids, etc.) lately. Notes comes standard on iPhones, iPads, and Macs, but you probably don’t realize how you can use the app. It’s much like what you do with an older device. Tap or click here for 10 ways you can use an older iPhone or iPad, from turning it into a car’s dashcam to a second monitor.

Notes looks like a small yellow notepad and is a terrific digital organizer. It’s great for quick thoughts or longer, late-night musings. Once it’s synced with iCloud, you have your notes on your devices.

Be sure to take this extra step. Go to Settings > [Your Name] > iCloud, then turn on Notes. You’ll see your notes on all of your Apple devices that you’re signed in to with the same Apple ID.

Now, let’s jump into a few new ways you can start using Notes.

1. Use it as a document scanner

When you need to scan a document, there is no need to get a third-party app. Notes will handle the job.

Open the Notes app. Create a new note by clicking the icon that looks like a square with a pen located at the bottom right of the screen. Tap the camera icon at the bottom of your new note and select Scan Documents.

Hold your phone over the document you want to scan. Your app will detect a document and scan it when it’s set to Auto. In Manual mode, you need to snap the photo. Swap between modes at the top right of your screen.

Tap the photo shutter button at the bottom of the screen to complete the scan. You can edit the image after you take it by dragging around the page corners. When finished, tap “Save” on the bottom right of your screen. Your file will save as a PDF. You can then email or message the scan right from within Notes.

Need to sign a PDF? Tap or click here for some easy ways to do it on a Mac, PC, iPhone, or Android.

2. Have Siri take notes for you

Let’s say you need to remember a house number or a list of things you need at the hardware store. There’s no need to pick up your phone, unlock it, find the Notes app, and start a new note. How tedious! Instead, say, “Hey Siri, note that the house number is 1980” or “Hey Siri, create a note called Home Depot list.”

You can dictate your text, and Siri will confirm and save your note. You can also update your Notes using Siri. Simply say “Hey Siri, update my house number note.” Siri’s pretty on target with Notes. You can ask her to find notes that contain certain subjects. That’s super helpful.

Siri has some other tricks up her sleeve. Tap or click here for my favorite Siri tips you’ll use time and time again.

3. Keep the family organized

Let’s use as an example a grocery store shopping list. With Notes, you can create a list and ask others in the family to add to that list.

While the ability to share individual notes is not a new feature, with iOS 13, you can now share an entire folder with anyone. To share a folder, swipe left and tap on the Add People icon.

Select how you want to invite people. If you wish to share in a view-only mode, select Share Options and check View only.

4. One place for remodeling and project ideas

Whether you’re remodeling a small bathroom or designing a backyard garden, you may have a few hand-drawn sketches with your plans. Use Notes to create a folder containing photos of your sketches. You can also add attachments, including other photos, videos, or web links so you have all your ideas in one place.

If you have used Apple Notes before, you know the app has no problem searching typed or handwritten text. The app couldn’t search images in previous versions, but that changed with iOS 13. 

Type in your specific term in the search bar and Notes will return all instances of the word from text entries, images, and saved scanned documents, such as receipts.

If you are remodeling, check out this list of the best apps to measure, pick colors and more.

Notes can do a lot, but it can’t clean up your messy photo collection. Tap or click for my three-step process for cleaning up your camera roll.

5. Store important documents and numbers

If you can’t remember your kid’s Social Security number or the passcode to an alarm, make a note of it. If you want to keep a note private from anyone who might use your device, you can use Face ID, Touch ID, or a password to lock and unlock your notes. (Wondering which method is best? Tap or click for a comparison.)

For any note that contains sensitive information, open the note you want to protect and tap the share icon in the upper right corner, then choose Lock Note. Give the note a password and if you want, enable Face ID or Touch ID too. Keep in mind that you will not be able to view the locked note if you forget this password.

Once locked, you will see a lock icon next to the note along with the last date it was edited. To unlock, enter your password.

Bonus Tip: Pin a note

You may discover that you refer to a few notes over and over again. No need to search or sort through your notes collection, just pin the important ones. Doing so will place any pinned notes at the top.

Swipe right on any note and tap the pin icon. Repeat the process to unpin.

What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch The Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.

Komando Community background

Join the Komando Community

Get even more know-how in the Komando Community! Here, you can enjoy The Kim Komando Show on your schedule, read Kim's eBooks for free, ask your tech questions in the Forum — and so much more.

Try it for 30 days