Apple’s macOS operating system has matured to the point where, out of the box, your new Mac laptop or desktop pretty much has the bases covered when it comes to email, calendar management, and some basic productivity tools. But there’s a whole world of better and more powerful Mac software out there that can make everything from GIF-making to photo editing to window organization a whole lot easier.
While paying for software might seem like some pre-Google anachronism, many of the best Mac applications out there cost just a few dollars and can drastically improve your workflow or your day-to-day computer use — without any privacy concerns or intrusive advertising. And some are so good that they warrant a monthly or annual subscription — especially if they really help you at your job or in a serious hobby like photography.
So whether you’re new to the Mac ecosystem, or if you’ve been looking for ways to make your existing Mac more useful, check out these apps. Some of them might totally overhaul how you get stuff done.
Adobe Creative Cloud Photography
You can’t really go wrong with Adobe’s Creative Cloud. The photography suite includes Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, and Photoshop, a professional-grade collection of software that will cover all the bases when it comes to photo editing and image creation. At $9.99 a month, it’s pricey. But there is no better software package for amateur and pro photographers — or aspiring meme creators who just really like to mess around on Photoshop.
Alfred is essentially a shortcut creation tool, and it lets you use quick keyboard commands to launch apps, find files, and even search the web. You can create your own extensions, or borrow those developed by a community of diehard Alfred users.
Alfred is a complex beast, and figuring out how to use it can be a bit tricky. But once you’ve locked down a few key formulas, you’ll be shaving off precious seconds to full minutes from everyday computer tasks. Unleashing its full power on your productivity workflow can be a game-changing upgrade to how you get things done.
I live my life through Bear Notes, and many other Mac-using writers will likely tell you the same. Bear Notes is a clean and powerful note-taking app that became my Evernote replacement when it first launched a couple years ago. It’s not as outfitted as some other apps, but it’s got excellent design and contains features I can’t live without, like the ability to pin notes, organize via hashtags, and use Markdown syntax.
It’s also got a great iOS app and it’s ultra-fast — a huge plus for people who, like me, do a lot of audio transcription and note taking on the go from my phone. The pro version costs $20 for the year, but it’s well worth the cash if you’re dumping any and all daily scribblings into Bear and using it on multiple devices. Other alternatives include Google’s excellent Keep app, as well as iA Writer.
If you buy basically everything from Amazon, or just do a whole lot of online shopping, a dedicated package tracker can go a long way in giving you some valuable peace of mind. Deliveries, a Mac app that costs $4.99, is just that. It supports dozens of shipping services and gives you a cohesive dashboard for all your incoming packages with up-to-date map info and estimated delivery dates. It’s also got a mobile app, in the event you really need to keep track of your latest purchase.
GIF Brewery 3
The internet runs on GIFs, and no software for creating them is quite as accessible as GIF Brewery 3. For one, it’s free, which is a huge plus. Most free GIF-making tools can only be found on the web, and usually involve wading through obnoxious advertisements or some cumbersome sign-in process. GIF Brewery 3 has none of that.
It’s a fast and powerful app that can pull in video from a local file or a YouTube link, but you can also use it to stitch together images or record something on your Mac screen or with your smartphone camera. It has a feature-packed customization panel for extending or shortening length, cropping, changing file sizes, and tinkering with overlays and loops. There’s no better tool out there for what GIF Brewery 3 offers.
One of the more frustrating aspects of macOS is the lack of an official window management tool. It makes little sense that Apple makes it so hard to resize and snap app windows with precision and bring them flush with the dock and corners of a multi-monitor display, especially when Windows has had native support for such tools for years.
But thankfully, there’s a big ecosystem of third-party apps that perform these tasks, and Moom is far and away the easiest to use. Once installed, it stays in the background, waiting for you to hover your cursor over the green maximize button. From there, you can orient the window in a number of ways, including in horizontal or vertical split-screen mode. You can create keyboard hotkeys, customize Moom for when you’re using your mouse cursor, and create custom window sizes and layouts to meet your needs.
Managing recipes might be something a casual cook does with a note-taking app or an email folder, but Paprika 3 is the super-powered recipe manager you never thought you needed. Although it’s expensive at $30, it has basically anything you’d ever want out of a cooking app. You can import recipes from competing services like MacGourmet, and export those recipes as weekly meal plans to your calendar, or turn the required ingredient or grocery lists into check lists in Reminders.
You can also create extensive grocery lists, kitchen inventories, and meal plans. You can scale down recipes to match your desired serving size, and sync everything between phone, tablet, and desktop. It’s also got a neat bookmarklet for instantly storing recipes found online. All in all, Paprika 3 is the home cook’s most vital app, and it’s a great way to start geeking out in the kitchen.
If you’re not keen on paying a monthly subscription for Photoshop, Pixelmator Pro is about as close to Adobe’s premium software as you can get. It supports RAW image processing — a necessity for any serious photo editing. It also matches a lot of the nifty bells and whistles Adobe has added to Photoshop and Lightroom over the years, including some artificial intelligence-assisted tricks that let you replace blemishes and other unwanted parts of an image with an artificial version of the background. Beyond that, Pixelmator Pro is just a powerful image editor designed specifically with Mac users in mind.
If you own Apple’s Airpods and tend to connect them frequently to both your iPhone and your Mac, Tooth Fairy is a must-buy accessory. It costs just $3, and it lets you easily toggle your connected Bluetooth devices on and off. It works by creating menu bar icon shortcuts for each device of your choosing, which can be customized to include battery status indicators. From there, you can manage all your Bluetooth devices with a click or, even better, a keyboard hotkey setup. So next time, instead of fiddling with the Bluetooth settings and waiting for your device to connect, you can do it with a quick and easy mouse click or shortcut command.
Pretty much every Mac user has had the experience of trying to rid their machine of a pernicious piece of software that just won’t disappear, because one file or another is in use or some other issue is preventing them from deleting it for good. TrashMe is designed to make that process seamless and thorough. It’s an uninstaller app that can delete any app, plug-in, or preference pane with ease, and it also lets you set up uninstall protections for apps you don’t want going anywhere. When you do decide to trash something, you simply drag the app icon over to TrashMe’s dashboard, and the software will wipe it and any other files associated with the app automatically.
For many people, Apple’s default Mail client, or Gmail in a web browser, does a good enough job for handling their desktop email needs. But for everyone else, myself included, a dedicated Mac app for your email is pretty much a necessity for transitioning between cleaning out your inbox and doing pretty much anything else. That’s where Wavebox excels.
It’s essentially a web wrapper powered by the Electron framework, and it pulls in all sorts of third-party apps and services in addition to standard Gmail. Yet it’s got clean design and super powerful integrations, letting you access everything from Asana and Office 365 to Discord and Slack — all in one app. Using those third-party integrations requires the $20 / year pro version, but Wavebox is one of those rare, do-everything apps that can really cut down on browser tab clutter and help you centralize your app management.