Apps that make my Mac better

I’m unashamed an Apple nerd. I bought my first MacBook from a guy on eBay in 2007 and haven’t looked back. My first job out of university was writing for a magazine that covered Apple. And I’ve tinkered away on macOS and iOS ever since.

Over the years, I’ve tried and tested a whole bunch of apps and utilities to make working on my Mac a better experience. I’m pretty happy with my setup, so I figured I’d share a few of my favourites.

The list below is by no means exhaustive, nor will it likely read the same six months to a year from now. I’ll try to remember to keep it updated, if I can. No promises, though.

1Password

I took longer than I’d like to admit to see the point in 1Password. But it’s been well over a year since I started taking it seriously, and I’m never looking back. If you’ve got a bad memory (like me) and huge amount of website and app logins to juggle (also me), this is your saviour.

It generates super secure passwords, saves them, and lets you log in to stuff faster than it’ll ever take you to recall which of the ten passwords you rotate between (also once me).

Online security is important, but it’s also a lot of effort to get right. This makes it effortless. Seriously. It’s worth every penny.

Better

Ad blockers are an ethical minefield. On the one hand, online advertising (and particularly ad tracking tech) is creepy and invasive and probably worse than we all take for granted. On the other, ads pay the bills because most of us don’t pay for content online. And there’s some really great content online.

Better is about the best compromise in this ethical minefield. It seems to focus mainly on weeding out the worst culprits (i.e. the ad tracking that follows you around and doesn’t respect your privacy). The bonus is that disabling a lot of that stuff also makes websites much faster as your Mac isn’t trying to download so many tracking scripts.

SelfControl

When my stupid monkey brain can’t focus, I flip on SelfControl so it blocks a bunch of the internet, as well as access to APIs that my third-party Twitter client (Tweetbot) uses. It’s annoying and embarrassing that I even have to physically block access to distractions. But this is by far and away the most effect way to do it.

A word of warning: once you set SelfControl’s timer, there’s no way to avoid the block once its timer starts. For reals. Seriously. Don’t even try. If you do manage it, there’s a high chance you’ll be breaking something you don’t want to break.

iA Writer

When you write for a living, there’s no getting around using Microsoft Word at some point. But there’s also no getting around the fact that it looks like the cockpit of a plane, when all you really want to see is the sky ahead of you. So. Many. Buttons.

If and when I can, I switch to writing in iA Writer. It’s beautifully designed and makes the writing process a lot calmer and more focussed. It’s Markdown friendly, exports to Word nicely, and even lets me upload straight to WordPress if I want. If you write regularly and don’t like looking at all that mess in Word, this is your app.

Vanilla

We’re entering nerdy territory here, but I really like Matthew Palmer’s Vanilla. So much so I paid for the upgrade to it, despite not really needing the upgrade features.

Vanilla hides your Mac’s menu bar icons in a really elegant way that makes me wonder why Apple hasn’t done something similar already. It’s occasionally buggy, but I’ll take the odd glitch in return for a solution for my fastidious need for a tidy desktop.


I think five recommendations is a good place to start. I could go on for some time, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. Or worse, bore you. If you’re looking for a specific recommendation for an app, feel free to email me. At best I’ll have the perfect app for you, and at worst we’ll work it out together.