Finding mac apps that are actually useful is an adventure. There are so many that claim amazing functionality, but for many it is just a marketing facade. It becomes difficult to identify the ones that are worthwhile to keep. In this post I’ll talk about some of my favorite apps that I use on macOS.
A majority of my communication if not on iMessage, is on Facebook Messenger. I have been searching high and low for a client that will allow me to always have Messenger open as an application on my computer. Caprine is the perfect desktop application for Facebook Messenger. An amazing feature is its privacy settings, which allow you to block read receipts and typing indicators. This means that you can read messages without letting know the other person know that you have read them. One downside is that it is an Electron app, and so when running for a long time its performance and speed become less than decent.
There are a bunch of cloud storage providers. As a student, the one I have chosen is Dropbox – it is now my go-to for everything file related, from backup to file sharing.
I appreciate the cross-device sync, which has become a standard feature for competitors. Another one of my favorite features is the quick share feature. It generates a link that you can share with anyone, so they have view access to the file, and you don’t have to deal with permission setting. All I do is right click the file in Finder, and the link is already copied to the clipboard.
The second and most important feature that I love is its version history for each file. Because Dropbox continues to sync as you work, it saves all intermediate versions of your work and makes it easy to view changes. This way, if you ever wish to go back to a version of a file you had before Dropbox has it already taken care of.
As a previous long-time Wunderlist user, I made the switch to Microsoft To Do after its deprecation. It was an easy transition, and To Do even allows you to import your task history from Wunderlist. But, I found To Do to have a completely different, subpar workflow to Wunderlist in many ways.
I then found Things, which I first tried with the trial. I really enjoyed it – it has really powerful organization settings. You can make projects and subheaders in each project, so I’m able to organize all my tasks easily. I also really love the “Upcoming” view which shows events in your calendar as well as due items on those days.
However, one thing that I think would be a huge help is natural language processing, so that it can automatically parse “due on Wednesday” when making the task. Going to the dropdown with the mouse is kind of annoying.
The default calculator app that comes with macOS is an old relic, identifying more with applications from 2000s than the modern UI’s of today. I wanted a more robust calculator that showed me history and offered easier use of more complex functions. There are a million different calculator apps available, but Numi is my favorite calculator app for macOS.
It offers different themes for the mode of macOS and has great natural language functionality for converting units. The document-like interaction, where each line has a calculation, has become my preferred UI for the calculator. It shows more information, and easy to dissect the formula and browse history.
I like to write – it helps me iron on my thoughts and walk through what I’m mentally digesting. Its a way to me to process and lay out my ideas in an organized manner, and put it in a format where I can illicit response and feedback from other eyes. As such, the app I write on is important.
I used to default to the Notes app, but found that it lacks the inviting user interface that Ulysses offers. With an incredible student discount, it also packs a lot of features such as markdown support, PDF export, and typewriter mode. It also offers a robust organization system to put away notes and organize different topics.
If you’ve used a Mac, then you’ve used Spotlight. Unfortunately, I’m disappointed with the lackluster implementation, and lack of features. Alfred is a much more powerful alternative.
You can customize prefixes to include with each search to help narrow down the results drastically. For example,
o [file_name] will open the file name, whereas
maps [place] will search Google Maps for a place. The best part is that everything is configurable, so you can customize Alfred based on how you use it.
Aware is a super simple menu bar application that tracks how long I’ve been using my computer. It’s helpful to know how long I’m staying productive (or procrastinating) and acts as a reminder to get off the computer for some breaks. It also takes up very little space on the menu bar.
macOS generates a lot of clutter that takes up storage on the hard drive. It’s also difficult to identify and remove this clutter. CleanMyMac is an amazing utility that keeps your mac healthy and in order. The first time I ran it, I got back 40GB of space!
Another feature of this app is its maintenance, which offers services such as Spotlight re-indexing and an app uninstaller.
I prefer to hide my dock because it takes up a lot of space on my screen, and I only use Alfred to open my apps. Whenever I do use it, the animation to show it takes too long. Dockey is an app that changes how you interact with your dock. It allows me to change the animation speed of my dock, so its snappier when showing and hiding it.
Google Backup and Sync
As a photographer, I have terabytes of photos and files that I keep across a few hard drives. As additional peace of mind, I back up these hard drives to the cloud. I use Google Drive as a backup solution, which keep all the files safe and accessible online. This is super convenient as I can grab a file from any device, even if I don’t have the hard drive with me.
Backup and Sync by Google is an easy way for me to back up entire drives to Google Drive. All I do is plug in the hard drive and select the directory to sync it to on Google Drive, and let it sit until it’s done syncing. The next time I plug it in and make any changes, Backup and Sync will take care of it. This was the easiest solution I found to back up many terabytes to the cloud.
HazeOver is a tool to focus on your current task and decrease distraction from other windows. It does this by dimming the screen aside from your current window. This is super helpful because I typically have many windows atop one another. Often, a background window is a chat that distracts me. With this dimming, it’s much harder to notice. If I want to have a window side by side with another, it’s easy to disable and re-enable:
I use the default calendar app, but sometimes I want quicker access to my upcoming meetings than having to open the app. Itsycal has decreased my dependence on the app itself to deal with my calendar. It’s a great utility app that sits in the menu bar and offers an agenda of the upcoming events that you have. It carries over the coloring for your meetings and makes it easy to see which day it is in the month.
Mac Media Key Forwarder
One of the most frustrating features of macOS is the automatic opening the iTunes app when hitting the play/pause button. I use Spotify, and so this was a headache when Spotify doesn’t open and instead iTunes pops up. Mac Media Key Forwarder allows you to set a priority app to respond to your media keys. With this utility, I can set priority to Spotify, so that Spotify opens instead of iTunes. Its super convenient, and also supports play/pause functionality for Chrome and other apps.
Maccy is a clipboard manager, keeping track of the last 200 items that you copied. It’s a simple and intuitive interface. By triggering a single key shortcut of your choosing, a UI will pop up, allowing you to search the past 200 items that you’ve copied. You copy it back into the clipboard by selecting one. Maccy is convenient and lightweight. It’s a lifesaver whenever I am forgetting something that I copied before, or am toggling between different pieces of text.
I set the keyboard shortcut to
c by running the command
defaults write org.p0deje.Maccy hotKey shift+command+c.
In the recent MacBook Pros, there is a secondary screen that replaces the function keys, called the touchbar. Unfortunately, Apple’s software integration of the screen is poor. Pock is a Mac app that allows the touch bar to be much more powerful than the default implementation.
They have a plethora of features and choices to customize your workflow. For example, you can mirror the apps on your dock to the touchbar and show information like battery and time. It also has some neat features like displaying the current song playing, play/pause any sound source, and brightness for the screen. Its super configurable and easy to install.
One of the features that macOS lacks out of the box is window management. I’ve searched high and low for the best solution – of all the window management solutions I’ve tried, Rectangle is the best by far. Along with great shortcuts and window organization, it also allows window snapping via drag. For example, dragging your window the right side of the screen will show an overlay on your screen. If you let go, it will resize and fill the overlay. This has been the best window management solution that seamlessly fits into my workflow.
After opening a compressed file, I rarely like to keep it around on my computer. Unfortunately Archive Utility, the default application that ships with macOS, doesn’t allow for much customization. It’s also quite limited in the types of compressed files that it can open. The Unarchiver is an app that allows you to set different preferences, such as automatically deleting the compressed file after unarchiving it. There are many of other handy features that I appreciate, which can be set in the preferences.
If you read about my mac setup, you’ll remember how I use Vanilla to hide non-essential icons in my menu bar.
If you have the premium version, you can unlock certain useful features, such as auto-collapsing after 5 seconds. This is an amazing app that clears a lot of the visual clutter that I see on my digital workspace.
The default screenshot system on the mac is good but not great. The shortcut is unnecessarily complicated, and there isn’t enough customization for what to capture. Xnip is a screenshot utility application for the mac and makes it super easy to screenshot anything. My favorite feature of it is that it supports ‘scrolling capture,’ where you select a part of the screen scroll down to add to the screenshot. This makes it super easy to save long emails, webpages, or anything else that doesn’t fit in your window size.
I set the shortcut to be
x, which is much simpler than the default mac screenshot shortcut. in addition, I like the sound effect that it makes a lot more than the default.
I tried out CleanShotX. However, I don’t enjoy the shortcut system or screenshot selector as much as Xnip – it requires separate shortcuts for a normal screenshot, windows, or scrolling capture. Xnip rolls all these options into a single shortcut and selector, making it a lot more convenient.