Welcome to my yearly post about stuff I’ve loved in the last year. I love doing this because it reminds me how amazing the Mac/iOS app ecosystem is these days. I can’t list every app I use in this post, it would take forever, but I can highlight some of the outstanding ones. I’m going to do this all in one epic post this year. It’s going to get long. You could always use Gather to convert it to Markdown, and then make use of all of Marked’s navigation tools 😇.
Apps available on Setapp will be noted. As I mention frequently, Setapp is a great deal at $10/month for 200+ excellent apps. If you’re a Setapp user, you should always try to use the Setapp version of your favorite apps to make sure the developer gets a piece of your subscription! If you’re not, you should seriously consider signing up. This link gives me a little kickback when you join!
The categories are presented with items in no particular order. I could have made them alphabetical, or attempted to rank them, but no, I present you with an unorganized stream of consciousness. Welcome to the inside of my head.
The Old But Awesome Stuff
I’m going to quickly list some repeats that are still favorites here at the top. These are apps I’ve used for years and still rely on every day, but I’ve talked about them plenty and you’ve probably heard about them before. So just a quick list of my perennial favorites.
- HoudahSpot Setapp
- Find everything on your Mac, even the stuff that Spotlight misses.
- iThoughtsX Setapp
- My favorite mind mapping tool. All the power and flexibility you need without becoming a chore to use. This one is on the giveaway list, so stay tuned for that next year!
- The ever-evolving brainstorming/project management tool that continues to amaze. Watch for a giveaway coming soon (New Year’s Day!).
- With the new Passkey and Authenticator possibilities in 1Password, it’s a no-brainer for me. I’ve trusted it for years and it’s never let me down.
- BetterTouchTool Setapp
- I talk about BetterTouchTool all the time. Maybe too much. But it’s the most amazing automation tool I’ve found. Second place for me is Keyboard Maestro, which just got a new version (v11) in the last few months.
- The stalwart email app for Mac that I depend on. Customizable shortcut keys, plugin architecture, Markdown capabilities… I’ve never found anything close.
- Choosy is long in the tooth but still working great. Instead of opening a link in your default browser, you can pop up a selection of any browser on your system, and you can create rules for handling different types of links with specific browsers.
- I use Hazel every day, but I don’t even think about it most of the time. It just sits in the background, managing my files and doing crazy automations when I give a file a certain naming pattern or put it in a certain folder. For example, if I save an image to my desktop with a name like
brettsfavorites2023@2x%%r1600ohc.png, Hazel will (r)esize it to 1600px width, (c)onvert it to JPEG, create a (h)alf-size 1x version, and (o)ptimize the images. Then I just drag the results to a Dropzone target to have them added to my blog and an image tag for the pair placed in my clipboard.
- Bartender Setapp
- Without Bartender my menu bar would be out of control. But with it, I can hide all of the menu bar icons I don’t need all of the time, and quickly access them with a hotkey search.
- Default Folder X Setapp
- Early in the Sonoma release DFX stopped working for me (all fixed now), and I didn’t realize exactly how dependent on it I was until it wasn’t there anymore. Save and open dialogs on your Mac need this.
- PopClip Setapp
- I use PopClip all day, every day. It pops up a menu every time you select text with your mouse. The available extensions are outstanding, and I have my own custom actions, too. One example is my URL Preview extension, so when I use SearchLink to grab a URL for an app I’m writing about but I’m not sure the result is correct, I just select the url and click the preview button in the popup. I get a tiny little web browser floating over my text, and if it’s the correct link, I hit escape and go back to writing.
- You hear about TextExpander every month when they sponsor this blog, so it makes this quicker list. It’s another app that, on the occasion it stops working, so do I. I don’t even remember how to type some of the things it makes automatic for me. One example is sending nvUltra beta invites. I just hit ⌘R to reply to an email request, type
,,nvub, and have an email with all of the necessary links and info ready to send. Or I can generate a new license for Marked by typing
,,mlic, and TextExpander will use the Paddle API to make me a license and insert all of the text I would send to explain how to use it. And I just linked that reference to Marked by typing
/m. Infinite possibilities.
- TaskPaper Setapp
- I have a TaskPaper file in every project folder, and I use tools like
nato quickly manage them from the command line. But nothing beats opening up the actual TaskPaper app for speedy task management and ease of use with lots of keyboard shortcuts.
- Hookmark Setapp
- I’ve preached the Hookmark gospel a lot here. Their recent improvements to the “bookmarking” concept (plus the Pinboard integration) have made this an invaluable tool for keeping my projects together. I have this post linked to a few web pages, my nvUltra notes on it, and the Markdown versions of previous installments of my Favorites series for reference. I just hit my shortcut key and navigate between them with ease.
- OmniFocus 4
- The latest version of OmniFocus is a major revamp of the app. I don’t think it will be available in time for this post to go up, but let me at least tease it by saying if you love OmniFocus already, you’re going to love v4, and if you’ve disliked it in the past for any reason, it’s time to give it another look. An honorary mention here goes to Things — the latest version is a top-notch app, especially if OmniFocus just feels more powerful than you need.
- This app has quickly become one of my day-to-day favorites. It keeps all of my apps up-to-date without me having to deal with download/install prompts every time I launch them. See the release notes for an update if you want to, install available updates with a single click, and always have the latest and greatest versions of apps ready to run. It auto-scans for updates in the background, so you don’t even have to remember to check it to keep everything updated.
- I’m all in on Mastodon, and all out on Twitter. And Ivory is my favorite Mastodon client on both Mac and iOS. It does everything I need it to, beautifully. If you ever enjoyed TweetBot, this is kind of that, but for Mastodon.
- What a great tool. I hook it up to my GitHub account and then every device on my network is accessible through a private VPN from anywhere in the world. I have it running on all of my Macs, my iPad, and my Synology, and I can get direct access to any device without any additional hassle.
- Kaleidoscope has made huge bounds in functionality this year. It was already my diff tool of choice (on any platform), but they’ve added new integrations, debugging features, and awesome support for Git history and merging. (Full disclosure, Kaleidoscope has sponsored this blog. This opinion is unpaid!)
- I can’t imagine making podcasts without Descript anymore. It does fairly reliable transcriptions, but the real magic is that you can edit the podcast by editing the text of the transcription. Makes it easy to search for parts you remember need an edit, remove filler words, and add things like chapter titles and cover art to make a ready-to-publish MP3.
- Paletro Setapp
- I think I’ve mentioned this one before, but if you like command palettes in your favorite editor (e.g. ⇧⌘P in Sublime), this adds the same concept to any app on your Mac. Hit the keyboard shortcut and every menu item (including Quick Actions and Services) are instantly available via keyboard.
- Screens Setapp
- I use Screens all the time for connecting to my various Macs, especially the mini that runs headless in my basement. Versus the Screen Sharing tools in macOS, it adds Screens Connect, which helps you connect to known machines from anywhere, stored credentials, and curtain mode, which masks the display of the remote Mac you connect to. Clipboard sharing, display selection (when there are multiple montiors), and easy drag-and-drop file transfers make it a pretty seamless experience.
- Dato Setapp
- I can’t use Fantastical with my work calendar, unfortunately (if I could, I’d be using that). But Dato works with my calendar, shows a great summary of calendar events in my menu bar, and makes joining a Zoom call a one-click process from either the menu bar or the notifications it provides. Solid tool that I use daily.
- Affinity Photo
- The Affinity apps continue to blow me away, and I use Affinity Photo almost daily. It completely replaced Photoshop for me a couple of years ago. Honorable mentions to Acorn and RetroBatch from Flying Meat for regularly helping me with my image processing.
- I’ve tried all the terminal apps that have been popping up. Warp is great, for sure. But I always come back to iTerm. It got so many of the special features right that it feels like all the other developers are just trying to keep up with it.
- I love Rogue Amoeba (also a previous sponsor), and Loopback is an amazing tool for audio routing. If you, like me, have multiple audio inputs and outputs, it makes creating virtual devices for them (or any combination of them) a drag-and-drop affair. For example, I use my Echo Dot for playing Spotify music, and route it through my Komplete 6 as a secondary input. I created a Loopback device that combines that secondary input with my main computer audio and adds the ability to mute the device using the media keys.
- Bike Setapp
- Bike is a new entrant this year. I generally think in mind maps, but there’s always a place for a solid outliner. I used to use Tree, but it fell into disrepair, and Bike is coming along nicely. As you would expect from Hog Bay Software, the query tools and automation capabilities are receiving lots of love. Plus the file format is just text (HTML, to be precise) and your outlines can be used anywhere. Much like TaskPaper, it’s easy to automate using command line tools, but more fun to work with inside the app.
- DevUtils Setapp
- This is another new one to me. It’s a collection of simple tools a developer would make use of, such as url encoding, JSON formatting/validation, JSON/YAML conversion, Unix Time converter, and dozens of others. It can detect what type of data is on your clipboard when you click its menu bar icon, offering an accurate guess of which tool(s) you’ll need to handle it. It can also copy straight back to clipboard, so some things are simply a matter of copying text, clicking the icon (global and Service shortcuts available), and pasting the result.
- I’ve mentioned Tower before (also a previous sponsor), but it’s come a long way this year. One of the most ingenious features is the undo command (⌘Z) that can undo literally any Git operation. You know, the ones that usually require filtering through the reflog and making cherry pick commits to fix. It makes using Git a pleasure, and taps into all of the powerful features it offers, just with drag and drop instead of command line futzing.
- CleanShot X Setapp
- I mentioned this one last year, but I would be remiss not to let you know how much I love it again. CleanShot X is one of the most useful and elegant utilities on the Mac right now. For all your screenshot needs, including things like automatic email pixelation and annotation, it just can’t be beat.
I haven’t found a lot of new stuff on iOS that I love this last year, but mostly because I primarily use my phone for email, messaging, and gaming. There are a few standouts in my daily use, though.
- Spark Setapp
- Spark gets a mention as my favorite email client. I haven’t sprung for the premium features, I find that the base package does everything I need it to. Smart inbox, easily configured sidebar, snoozing, pinning, and great search. Combined with SaneBox (sponsor) and MailMate on my Mac, I’m quite happy with my email management system.
- Rabbi Eric Linder introduced me to this game and it did the impossible task of replacing Threes, my all-time favorite waiting room game. It’s an infinite puzzle that you’ll never beat, but it’s so much fun to play.
- Grindstone is still one of my favorite games. Even though I’ve 3-starred all the levels, they offer daily challenges with worldwide leaderboards that keep me coming back.
- Apple News hasn’t impressed me that much lately, but Artifact is a constant source of headlines I actually care about, across multiple categories. And the AI-generated summaries are great. It will even rewrite headlines to be less click-baity if enough people report them.
- Night Vision
- I don’t use this app as often as the others, but I like the concept. It makes your iPhone’s LiDAR camera available as a kind of night vision camera, allowing you to see objects in complete darkness. Handy for stumbling through the house at night when you can’t sleep but don’t want to wake anybody up.
I apparently didn’t buy much other hardware this year, and my list is pretty much exactly the same as last year’s. Check it out here. I will mention my UHK, though:
- Ultimate Hacking Keyboard
- My perennial favorite keyboard, and I got the V2 this year with box white switches, wooden wrist rests, and the new thumb modules. I’ve gotten a few other people on board with this one and haven’t heard about anybody being disappointed with the purchase. I’m typing on it right now and loving it. UHK recently released the Riser 60, a mechanism for getting steeper tenting (two halves raised in the middle). Ordered mine immediately, just waiting for it to ship!
I did a lot of coding this year. My bipolar has been stable for the last 6 months, so I’m taking a healthier-than-usual approach to coding. No all-night coding binges, just steady improvements of some of my favorite tools.
- SearchLink is a child who takes care of me in my old age. I put a lot of love into it, and it works to make my life easier. If you haven’t seen it, it makes writing a post like this one a cinch. I haven’t switched over to my browser once since I started writing. I just give it text like
[Kaleidoscope](!s +mac)and hit the keyboard shortcut, and it inserts a link (with title attribute) to the app in question. Works for dozens of search types. I recently added back Google searching using the API (as opposed to scraping DuckDuckGO, though that’s still available), and my results are 99% correct on the first try.
- NA (Next Action)
- I made a lot of progress on NA this year, converting it to a gem, adding the ability to update and modify tasks, and improving overall performance. As I mentioned above, I use TaskPaper-formatted files in every one of my projects to track bugs, todos, and feature requests, and NA makes working with those files from the command line easy and fun.
- Marked 2
- Marked didn’t see as much innovation as usual this last year, but it continues to do what it does very well: previewing Markdown and exporting HTML and beautiful PDFs. Multi-document features, writing tools, regex searching, bookmarking in long documents… it does it all. The biggest challenge this year was updating for Sonoma, which broke significant parts of Marked.
- Bunch got a ton of love early this year. It’s been stable for a few months now, almost every feature request handled and all bugs squashed (that were squashable). It’s received coverage on multiple sites and even print write-ups in a couple of magazines. I’m pretty proud of it as a project, and think it fits nicely into the Mac automation space.
- mdless was my most recent coding obsession, and probably my last one for the year. It previews Markdown on the command line, outputting formatted text to your terminal. Perfect for reading those README files after you clone a project! Combined with Gather (a previous coding obsession this year), it can actually work as a Lynx-style browser.
- I know, I know. It’s so close. The beta is very, very stable, we’re just working on a couple of refinements (and some MAS purchase issues) before release. If you’re reading this and you’re not on the beta already, contact me to get added.
Well, that’s my wrap-up for 2023. Hopefully you found some gems along the way. If you have apps you think I should check out, please come tell me about them in the forum! (If you comment on this post, it will automatically create a forum topic).