Apple makes a killer operating system for its computers. MacOS is beloved for its out-of-the-box stability and ease of use, but some of its included programs lack a lot of the functionality we expect. Apple doesn’t often listen to its customers, stubbornly refusing to add simple features that would make the platform even easier to use. Lucky for you, we’ve highlighted the best third-party applications for macOS to augment and upgrade your macOS experience.
Some are for niche uses, but others fix gaps in vanilla MacOS. Many of these apps aren’t free, but most have free trials you can check out while you decide whether to buy. It’s also common for them to sync with companion apps on your iPhone. Check out the list below and give them a try. These MacOS apps might just make your life a little easier.
Updated March 2022: We added Evernote, Microsoft 365, and Tweetbot, and we updated pricing on several apps, including ApolloOne, Shift, and Magnet. We also swapped the Samsung T7 external solid-state drive for the cheaper non-touch model, and we added details about cloud-based backup services Amazon AWS S3 and Backblaze B2.
Special offer for Gear readers: Get a 1-year subscription to WIRED for $5 ($25 off). This includes unlimited access to WIRED.com and our print magazine (if you’d like). Subscriptions help fund the work we do every day.
For a Better User Experience
Yes, you can use Split View on MacOS to view two applications side by side, but it’s nowhere near as intuitive as it is on Microsoft’s Windows, where you can simply drag a window to a corner and have it snap into place. This app is worth the $3 if you don’t want to mess with resizing window borders constantly. Magnet ($8) is another good option, although now that they’ve raised the price from $3, BetterSnapTool is a better deal.
If you’ve ever had to keep wiggling a finger on the trackpad during a movie or YouTube video to stop the screen from going to sleep over and over (or maybe during a particularly long download), you’ll appreciate an app that lets you keep the screen on for certain tasks. It even works with external displays. Sure, you can keep going into your system preferences to change the screensaver and hard disk shutdown settings, but that can get tiresome quickly.
Twitter can be an overwhelming hive stream of consciousness, and finding the tweets you want can feel like looking for a handful of needles in a big, international haystack. Tweetbot’s sidebar makes using Twitter more manageable by giving you one-click access to your timelines, saved searches, and DMs. You can also select from a list of filters to block out tweets you don’t want to see, such as spoilers, sponsored tweets, and specific keywords, users, and hashtags that you personally customize.
The default search tool on MacOS isn’t bad, but there’s room for it to go deeper. Alfred is a supercharged alternative that lets you create custom shortcuts to programs and file folders, activate system commands by typing, create automated custom workflows that begin with the push of a button or a typed phrase, and, well, a lot more. It’s free, but you can purchase a version called Powerpack that has more features, such as contacts and app integrations. It costs 29 British pounds (around $38) for a single user license or 49 pounds (around $64) for a lifetime of free upgrades to subsequent versions of Alfred.
AdGuard’s stand-alone MacOS app lets you choose from and custom-toggle a huge array of filters to block social media extensions, pop-up ads, URL redirects, and a whole lot more. It works not only on your browser but also on other apps you have installed. There’s a free two-week trial, but you’ll need to pay for a license to use it after the trial expires. For $2.49 a month, you get access to the service on three devices simultaneously.
For a Better Writing Experience
Tired of paying for Microsoft Office, unimpressed with Apple’s default office suite, and unable or unwilling to switch entirely over to Google’s G Suite on the cloud for everything? Download LibreOffice, a full-featured suite that includes the usual applications, such as a word processor and spreadsheet editor. It’s completely compatible with all the usual Microsoft file types, including legacy formats such as .doc. It’s open source and costs nothing to use, even commercially. For goodwill, donate a few bucks if you end up liking it and using it a lot.
OK, OK, I know I just presented a very worthy, free alternative to Microsoft Office, but there are two features that make paying $7 a month for a Microsoft 365 subscription worth it, if you use them. First, Word’s included Editor feature, which scans for grammatical mistakes and makes suggestions, is as useful and easy to use as Grammarly. Second, Microsoft quietly rolled out free in-app voice transcription in Word, and it’s as accurate as any expensive stand-alone voice transcription software I’ve used.
I love Ulysses’ plain text and clean interface for writing longer stories, but it’s also perfect for short stories, novels, poetry, and scripts. It strips away all the unnecessary icons, buttons, and settings and lets you focus on your work. You can get a free trial before committing to the subscription fee. (You can opt for $6 per month instead of the annual payment plan.) If you do shell out, the iOS app is bundled with the MacOS version.
Highland is a plain text editor designed primarily for screenplays and stage plays, but there are templates for things like novel writing as well. What’s nice is that it’ll automatically configure exported scripts in industry-standard formats, and there’s a new gender analysis tool that’ll break down how many lines are spoken by your characters, categorized by gender. The basic version (which watermarks PDFs with the company logo) is free, but a one-time $50 purchase nets you upgrades and more features, and it gets rid of the intrusive watermark.
Journaling is a meditative experience, but if you’re like me and your handwriting looks like an SOS message carved into a rock, you tend to avoid writing on paper. Day One is a great digital journaling experience that lets you insert photos, save voice recordings, and export your logs in various formats, like PDFs. Your journal entries are end-to-end encrypted, automatically backed up, and secured with a passcode or biometrics too. There’s a free version, but it’s severely limited, so you’re better off paying the $35 per year for the full suite of features. There’s a seven-day free trial available.
Working in a noisy place—or a dead-quiet one—can be monumentally distracting. Dark Noise lets you custom-mix its 50 built-in sounds to create the perfect audio illusions, whether “perfect” to you is raindrops falling on a tent or a box fan thrumming away on a windowsill. Even if you’re not under audio attack, a smooth layer of background noise might boost your concentration.
For a Better Viewing Experience
If you need a heavy-duty image viewer that lets you edit and view metadata, batch-process catalogs of RAW image files, and set up automated processes to sort and classify photos for you, then step up to ApolloOne. This is a program for serious photographers—or at least people who take a lot of pictures and want to organize them. The 14-day free trial has limits on what you can do, but it’s a good way to see if you’ll want to pay $12 a year for the Standard Edition or $20 a year for the Pro Edition. (You can use the free trial past 14 days if you don’t mind the annoying pop-up reminders to subscribe.) Another alternative is XnView MP (free).
A lightweight image viewer, this app doesn’t come with all the options and clutter of more advanced programs, but it’s nicer to use if you don’t need all those features. Xee³ is clean, like MacOS’ default viewer, but it lets you browse through folders of images and move photographs more easily. For $4, it’s yours for life. It reminds me of Windows Photo Viewer—in a good way.
An oldie from 2001, this is a great video player that’s continually supported. It works with a ton of file formats and codecs, even allowing you to convert from one file type to another, and it gives you a range of audio and video compression methods for making smaller files out of raw or larger ones. If you download a lot of videos, it’s a no-brainer. It’s also an open source product, so be nice and donate a few bucks for the creator if you end up using it a lot.
From the folks who brought us Evernote, Skitch one-ups MacOS’ built-in Screenshot app. Once you capture a screenshot of a program window, a portion of the screen, or the whole screen, you can edit and annotate it with arrows, shapes, textual callouts, and more. You can also pixelate (make fuzzy) portions of an image to obscure sensitive information, or to draw focus.
For Better Organization
Tidying up folders is a slog, and sorting all your files into place never ends because you have to keep doing it over and over as you continue using your computer. That’s where Hazel steps in. You tell it which folders to watch—say, your Downloads folder—and it’ll automatically move files to new destination folders and sort them by name, date, type, what site they came from, and more. Newly created or downloaded files are moved automatically. It’s a one-time purchase.
Instead of having to sign in to all your email, workflow, and social media accounts with individual browser tabs, you can link all of them into Shift. That means having just one app window open for all your work tasks. You can hook up Gmail, Slack, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Spotify, Google Docs, and more (plus Chrome extensions!). The Advanced tier unlocks everything you’ll want for, uh, $100 per year. Try the basic (and free) tier first.
You’re drowning in packages. Keeping everything straight is a nightmare, and it’s stressful to know that if you miss an email or if a delivery date changes, a porch package thief might make off with your goods. This app gives you a clean, color-coded space (purple for FedEx, brown for UPS, etc.) to keep track of delivery statuses and due dates for all your packages, and you can upload tracking information through Amazon links too. It costs $5 per year or 99 cents per month.
If you need more from your note-taking app than bread-and-butter checklists and wish you could scribble in your own handwriting, upload pictures, and scan documents, Evernote is your app. To sync across more than two devices, have access offline, and upload more than 60 megabytes a month, you have to pay $8 a month for the Personal tier or $10 a month for the Professional tier.
Save recipe web pages and Paprika automatically formats them into a uniform design. All your recipes are organized in folders, and you can use the app’s interactive features to check off ingredients as you cook and scale up or down the ingredients needed for different serving sizes. There’s an iOS app and an Android app, but you have to buy each separately for $5. It’s also available on Windows for $30, so you can sync recipes across multiple platforms.
Other Good Tools
Beyond adding functionality, you should also boost your security. It has nothing to do with using a Mac and everything to do with using computers and mobile devices in general. To guard against data snoops and identity thieves, I highly recommend paying for a virtual private network (VPN).
Also, that same password you put into every one of your hundreds of website accounts? It’s easy for intruders to guess it. Download a password manager, which will generate complex, secure, and unique passwords for each website (and remember them all for you).