iPhone Notes: Everything You Need to Know

using iPhone notes app
image credit: Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision/Getty Images

The iPhone Notes App: More Useful Than It Seems

using iPhone notes app
image credit: Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision/Getty Images

The Notes app that comes built into every iPhone may seem pretty boring. All it does is let you type basic text notes, right? Wouldn't you be better off with a more sophisticated app like Evernote or AwesomeNote?

Not necessarily. Notes is a surprising powerful and complex app and provides everything many users need. Read on to learn about the basics of Notes as well as advanced features like encrypting notes, drawing in them, syncing them to iCloud, and more.

This article is based on the version of Notes that comes with iOS 10, though many aspects of it apply to earlier versions.

Creating and Editing Notes

creating notes in iOS Notes app

Creating a basic note in the Notes app is simple. Just follow these steps:

  1. Tap the Notes app to open it
  2. Tap the icon in the bottom right corner that looks like a pencil and a piece of  paper
  3. Start typing using the onscreen keyboard.
  4. Your changes are automatically saved. When you're done typing, tap Done.

That creates a pretty basic note. You can make the note more visually appealing, or more organized, by adding formatting to the text. Here's how:

  1. Tap the + icon just above the keyboard to reveal additional options and tools
  2. Tap the Aa button to reveal the text-formatting options
  3. Select the one you want 
  4. Begin typing and the text will have the style you selected
  5. Alternatively, you can select a word or block of text (using the standard text-selection technique on the iPhone) and in the pop-up menu tap the BIU button to bold, italicize, or underline the selected text.

To edit an existing note, open Notes and tap the one you want on the Notes list. When it opens, tap the note to bring up the keyboard.

Attaching Photos & Videos to Notes

Add photo and video to iOS Notes app

Beyond just capturing text, Notes lets you attach all kinds of other files to a note. Want to add in a photo or video, a link to a location that opens in the Maps app or a link to an Apple Music song? Here's how to do it.

Attaching a Photo or Video to a Note

  1. Begin by opening the Note you want to add the photo or video to
  2. Tap the body of the note so the options above the keyboard appear
  3. Tap the camera icon
  4. In the menu that pops up, tap Take Photo or Video to capture a new item or tap Photo Library to select an existing file (skip to step 6)
  5. If you chose Take Photo or Video, the camera app opens. Take the photo or video, then tap Use Photo (or Video)
  6. If you chose Photo Library, browse your Photos app and tap the photo or video you want to attach. Then tap Choose
  7. The photo or video is added to the note, where you can view or play it. 

Viewing Attachments

To see a list of all attachments you've added to your notes, follow these steps:

  1. Tap the Notes app to open it
  2. From the Notes list, tap the four squares icon in the bottom left
  3. This displays all attachments by type: photo and video, map, etc. Tap the attachment you want to view
  4. To see the note that it is attached to, tap Show in Note in the top right corner.

Attaching Other Kinds of Files to Notes

Attaching files to iOS notes app

Photos and videos are far from the only kind of file you can attach to a note. You attach other kinds of files from the apps that create them, not the Notes app itself. For example, to attach a location follow these steps:

  1. Open the Maps app
  2. Find the location you want to attach
  3. Tap the sharing button (it looks like a square with an arrow coming out of it)
  4. In the pop-up, tap Add to Notes
  5. A window pops up that shows what you'll be attaching. To add text to it, tap Add text to your note...
  6. Tap Save to create a new note with the attachment, or
  7. To add the attachment to an existing note, tap Choose Note: and select a note from the list
  8. Tap Save.

Not every app supports sharing content to Notes, but those that do should all follow these basic steps.

Drawing in Your Notes

Drawing in iOS Notes app

If you're a more visual person, you may prefer sketching in your notes. The Notes app has you covered for that, too.

When you're in a note, tap the squiggly line above the keyboard to reveal the drawing options. These options include:

  • Tool—choose from a pencil, marker, pencil, ruler, or erase. Tap to select and unselect. Pinch, zoom, and rotate the ruler
  • Color—tap the black dot at the far right to change the color line your tool makes
  • Undo and Redo—to undo a change, or redo it, tap the curved arrows at the top left next to the Done button (the arrow facing left is undo)
  • Rotate Page—to rotate the page you're drawing on, tap the icon that looks like a square with an arrow curving to the left above it at the top right corner of the screen
  • Create a second page—tap the square icon with the + in it. Move between pages by swiping with two fingers.

Making Checklist Lists with Notes App

Making checklists in iOS Notes app

There's a built-in tool that lets you use Notes to create checklists and it's really easy. Here's what to do:

  1. In a new or existing note, tap the + icon above the keyboard to reveal the tools
  2. Tap the checkmark icon at the far left. This inserts a new checklist item
  3. Type the name of the item
  4. Tap return to add another checklist item. Continue until you've created your full list.

Then, when you complete items from the list, just tap them and a checkmark appears next to them. 

Organizing Notes Into Folders

create folders in iOS Notes app

If you've got a lot of notes, or just like to keep your life very organized, you can create folders in Notes. These folders can live on your iPhone or in your iCloud account (more on that in the next section).

Here's how to create and use folders:

  1. Tap the Notes app to open it
  2. At the notes list, tap the arrow in the top left corner
  3. On the Folders screen, tap New Folder
  4. Select where the new folder will live, on your phone or in iCloud
  5. Give the folder a name and tap Save to create the folder.

To move a note to a new folder:

  1. Go to the notes list and tap Edit
  2. Tap the note or notes you want to move to that folder
  3. Tap Move To...
  4. Tap the folder.

Password-Protecting Notes

Locked note in iOS Notes app

Got a note that's storing private information like passwords, account numbers, or plans for a surprise birthday party? You can password-protect notes by following these steps:

  1. Open the Settings app on the iPhone
  2. Tap Notes
  3. Tap Password
  4. Enter the password you want to use, then confirm it
  5. If you want to really secure the note, keep the Use Touch ID slider at on/green
  6. Tap Done to save the change
  7. Then, in the Notes app, open a note you want to protect
  8. Tap the sharing button in the top right corner
  9. In the pop-up, tap Lock Note
  10. A lock icon is added to the top right corner
  11. Tap the lock icon to lock the note
  12. From now on, when you (or anyone else) tries to read the note, they'll have to enter the password (or use Touch ID, if you left that setting on in step 5).

To change a password, go to the Notes section of the Settings app and tap Reset Password. The changed password will apply to all new notes, not notes that already have a password.

Sync Notes Using iCloud

sync notes app with icloud

Notes used to only exist on the iPhone, but it's available on the iPad and Mac, too. The good news about this is that since those devices can sync content with your iCloud account, you can create a note anywhere and have it appear on all of your devices. Here's what you need to do:

  1. Make sure all devices you want to sync notes to are signed into the same iCloud account
  2. On your iPhone, go to the Settings app
  3. Tap your name at the top of the screen (in iOS 9 and earlier, skip this step)
  4. Tap iCloud
  5. Move the Notes slider to on/green
  6. Repeat this process on every device you want to sync notes via iCloud.

With that done, every time you create a new note, or edit and existing one, on these devices, the changes are pushed automatically to all other devices.

 

How to Share Notes

sharing notes on iPhone

Notes are a great way to keep track of information for yourself, but you can share them with others, too. To share a note, open the note you want to share and tap the sharing button (the box with an arrow coming out of it) in the top right corner. When you do that, a window appears with the following options:

  • AirDrop—This is a wireless file-sharing feature built into the iOS and macOS. With it, you can quickly send a note to the Notes app on another iPhone, iPad, or Mac using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Learn more about AirDrop in How to Use AirDrop on iPhone 
  • Message—Send the contents of a note via text message with this option. If you're sending to another Apple device, this uses Apple's free, secure iMessage system
  • Mail—Convert a note into an email by tapping this button. This opens in the default Mail app that comes with the iPhone
  • Save Image—If there's an image attached to the note, tapping this button will let you save just the image (not the entire note) to the Photos app on your device
  • Print—If you're near an AirPrint-compatible printer, this option will wirelessly send your note to the printer for a quick hard copy
  • Assign to Contact—Another option that works only with images attached to notes. If you tap this, you can assign an image in a note to be the default photo for a contact in your address book.

Collaborate With Others on Shared Notes

collaborate shared notes iphone

Besides just sharing notes, you can actually invite other people to jointly collaborate on a note with you. In this situation, everyone you invite can make changes to the note, including adding text, attachments, or completing checklist items (think shared grocery or to-do list).

To do this, the note you want to share must be stored in your iCloud account, not on your iPhone. All collaborators also need iOS 10, macOS Sierra (10.12), and an iCloud account.

Either move a note to iCloud or create a new note and put it in iCloud (see step 9 above), then follow these steps:

  1. Tap the note to open it
  2. Tap the icon in the top right corner of a person with a plus sign 
  3. This brings up the sharing tool. Begin by selecting how you'd like to invite other people to collaborate on the note. Options include by text message, mail, Facebook, and more
  4. The app you choose to use for the invite opens. Add people to the invitation using your address book or by typing in their contact info
  5. Send the invite.

When people accept the invitation, they can view and edit the note. To see who's got access to the note, tap the person/plus sign icon. You can also use this screen to invite more people or stop sharing the note.

Deleting Notes & Recovering Deleted Notes

undelete notes in iOS Notes

Deleting notes is very simple, but there are a few ways to do it.

From the Notes list when you open the app:

  • Swipe right to left across a single note and tap Delete
  • Tap Edit and tap multiple notes that you want to delete. Tap Delete All

From within a note:

  • Tap the trash icon at the bottom left (if you don't see this, tap Done in the top right corner and it will appear).

But what if you deleted a note that you now want to get back? I've got good news for you. The Notes app retains deleted notes for 30 days, so you can recover it. Here's how:

  1. From the Notes list, tap the arrow in the top left corner. This takes you to the Folders screen
  2. On that screen, tap Recently Deleted in the location that the note lives (iCloud or On My iPhone)
  3. Tap Edit
  4. Tap the note or notes you want to recover
  5. Tap Move To...
  6. Tap the folder you want to move the note or notes to. The note is moved there and no longer marked for deletion.

Advanced Notes App Tips

create note with siri in iOS Notes

There are endless tricks to discover and ways to use Notes, but here are a few extra tips for how to use the app:

  • Use Siri—You can use Siri to create a new note. Just activate Siri and say "take a note" or "start a new note." Then say what the note should contain and Siri will transcribe the note for you.
  • Create Notes from Other Apps—If you're using an app that lets you select text—Mail or Safari, for example—you can create a note by highlighting text. In the menu above the selected text, tap Share... and then tap Add to Notes. In the window that pops up, add any additional information and tap Save to create a new note or Choose Note: to add to an existing one.
  • Permanently Delete Notes—As we learned above, notes that you delete actually hang around for up to 30 days. If you want to make sure they're deleted right away, go to the Recently Deleted folder as described above. Then, swipe right to left across a note and tap Delete. The note is deleted immediately.