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The 10 Must-Have Apps I Install on Every New Mac

Following my recent post about what’s on my iPhone home screen at the beginning of 2016, I decided to do the same for my must-have Mac apps.

I consider these apps requirements when setting up any new machine — essentially, I feel that I need them to use the computer effectively.

Hopefully this will give others who are looking for new or useful apps some ideas.

1. 1Password

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1Password — my password manager of choice for many years. (This one’s also on my iPhone home screen, you’ll recall.)

Strong passwords, of course, are key to protecting yourself online. You should use a different, complex password for every important account. This can be hard, though, if you’re trying to store all this info on your head.

With a password manager like 1Password, you can remember just one strong password, which you use to open the app. Then you can automatically generate ridiculously strong passwords for every account you have within the app, and access those on the fly, no matter which device you’re using.

2. Dropbox

2016-02-07dropbox

Dropbox — Confession time: I once ruined a one-month-old MacBook Air by spilling a full bottle of Stella Artois beer directly on the keyboard.

It’s a long story. But, BUT! I had saved all of my important documents, images and other files in Dropbox, so I lost nothing — except money and my pride, that is.

Dropbox lets you stores your files in the cloud, so that they’re accessible on various devices.

For example, I’ve long kept many of my basic lists in plain text files, and use Dropbox to keep them synced across my Mac, my iPhone, and my work machine.

3. Chrome

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Chrome for Mac — I was a loyal users of Apple’s browser, Safari, for many years. But a while back I switched over to Chrome, which, in my experience, is faster and more reliable, even though Safari looks prettier and is obviously built for the Mac.

One caveat: Some say Chrome is more resource-intensive than Safari, meaning it will drain your battery faster.

4. TextExpander

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TextExpander — this app, which I’ve been using for many years, lets you use abbreviations for frequently used bits of text.

For example, if I type “eemail,” the app will instantly insert my personal email address. If I type “eeemail,” it will insert my work email. If I type “ddate,” it will insert “February 8, 2016,” etc.

I also have so-called snippets set up for my home and office addresses, various email signatures, and much more. It’s the kind of tool that is totally indespensible.

5. PDFpen

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PDFpen — let’s get this out of the way: at $74.95, this is not a cheap app. But the ability to manipulate PDFs by typing and writing on, and signing them, is nearly magical, and makes the app well worth the price.

I’ve used PDFPen, which is made by the same folks behind TextExpander, to fill out and send back any number of forms, applications and the like.

Forget about printing out and manipulating physical documents — you can do it all digitally with PDF Pen.

6. Evernote

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Evernote — Somewhat sadly, I hardly ever use what had been my go-to writing app since 2007: Scrivener.

I used Scrivener to write my graduate school thesis, composed hundreds of stories on it, and even used it to tackle Nanowrimo many moons ago.

The problem: While it’s great if you only ever use on computer, it’s not so great if you want to be able to work on the same documents across machines or devices. (The company behind the product has been saying for some time that they’re working on an iOS version.)

So I’ve increasingly been using Evernote — it’s designed not as a word processor, but as a catch-all for tons of different digital material, from text and images to audio and more. But you can certainly use it for writing.

7. TweetDeck

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Tweetdeck — the best way to access Twitter on your Mac. I have several columns set up so that I can access my various Twitter lists — accounts I don’t want to miss, fellow WSJ folks, notifications when people respond to or like my tweets or stories, and more.

Note that Twitter recently released a new version of its Mac app, but I’m sticking with Tweetdeck for now.

8. Spotify

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Rdio was my streaming music choice for several years, but when it shut down last year, I switched to Spotify.

I like it a lot — especially the excellent Discover Weekly feature, in which the service automatically generates a playlist of new music for you based on your listening habits.

I mostly use Spotify on my iPhone, but the app also works well on the Mac.

9. Caffeine

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Caffeine — this tiny little app does one thing and does it well: it keeps your Mac from going to sleep.

The app lives in your menu bar, and you can simply click it to keep your machine awake if you’ll be away from it from an extended amount of time, or don’t wait it to dim or go to sleep when you’re watching a movie, for example.

  • Cost: free
  • For more and #Protips: that’s all you need to know — it simply keeps your Mac awake!

10. Noizio

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Noizio — like Caffeine, this is a small app that lives in your menu bar and has a singular task: to provide background noise.

If I’m being distracted by various sounds when I’m working on my Mac, I simply throw my headphones on and choose one of Noizio’s ambient sounds — I especially like “Paris Cafe” — and work away.

  • Cost: Free.
  • For more and #Protips: that’s all you need to know — it simply provides background noise!

 

My iPhone Home Screen, Early 2016

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I’ve seen a few people posting about what they’ve got on their iPhone home screens now, with the new year upon us, and was inspired to do the same. I look forward to seeing how this changes over time.

Here goes:

On the top row, I’ve got the standard calendar app (I’ve tried the popular iCal alternatives, notably Fantastical, but was never sold on them), then the Photos app, standard Camera app, and — of course — Instagram. I like to keep all three photo-snapping-related apps in the top row, where I can reach them easily.

The second row holds the standard Clock app, Safari browser, the Voice Memos app (for easy access when conducting interviews; I use my iPhone to make backup recording should my stand-alone digital audio recorder fail), and Google Maps.

Row three contains 1Password, an insdispensible password manager that is one of the very first apps I install on any iDevice or Mac); the Settings app, Notesy (a simple app I’ve used for years that allows note taking via plain text files, syncable via Dropbox), and the standard Twitter app.

In row four I’ve got the excellent Pomodoro Timer, which I use to track quick dashes of uninterrupted work, per the pomodoro technique; the Pedometer++ app, for measuring steps; my favorite podcast app, Overcast; and, of course, the WhatsApp messaging app.

The fifth row is a row of containers. I love messaging apps so much I have an entire folder dedicated to the practice; it contains no fewer than 13 apps. Then Web/social is where I keep Facebook, Vine, and my favorite Pinboard app, Pinswift.

Apple Misc. contains the Apple stuff I mostly only deal with when I have to: the App Store, iTunes Store, etc. The red 1,374 represents the huge number of unread emails in my Gmail account. More on that below.

News contains our WSJ app, the NYT app, Quartz, Newsblur (a replacement I found when Google Reader died, and which I still love), and my favorite app for keeping track of English Premier League scores, theScore.

In row six are a couple more containers: Utilities, which holds the excellent calculator killer, Soulver; the Aeropress Timer (yes, an app for making coffee) and more. Navigation holds transport apps like GrabTaxi and Uber. And then there’s my two main reading apps, Kindle and Instapaper.

In the very bottom row are the Phone icon — unlike some, I still often use my phone for actual voice calling — and the app for my Gmail replacement, the awesome Fastmail. (I switched from Gmail to Fastmail not long ago. I may write about that in the future.)

Then there’s the normal SMS text message icon, and my latest streaming music service of choice, Spotify.

I wonder how this will look this time next year…

My 2 Favorite NYC Public Transport Apps

2013 03 24 nyc subway

Navigating New York City’s massive subway system, seen above, can be difficult. Especially for those, like me, who are new — or newish — to the city.

I use two helpful iPhone apps to streamline my various journeys.

Embark

The first is called Embark.

Opening this free app reveals a touch-responsive map of the city’s subway system:

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The stations are clickable. You simply 1) choose your starting point, then 2) choose your destination, as I’ve done in the screen shot above.

Then, when you click on the arrows at the top right of the screen, Embark will tell you which trains to take, when they’re arriving, and how long your journey will last:

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When beginning, if you know which station is closest, you can simply click that stop.

Or, if you need guidance, you can click a button and Embark will use your device’s GPS functionality to find the nearest station. Then the app will direct you, step by step, to that stop.

The maps are all built into the app, so you can use it underground, where there’s no mobile service. (GPS functionatliy, however, only works above ground.)

The maps showing your routes are simple and clean:

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One especially useful feature is that Embark will re-route you in the event of subway service interruptions.

So if, for example, a train stops running before you make your return trip, the app will automatically suggest an alternative route.

You can read more about Embark’s design and functionality here.

Exit Strategy

The second app I like is called Exit Strategy. It costs $3.99 and is available in iOS, Android, and Blackberry versions.

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The app contains detailed street-level maps of the city. But I primarily use Exit Strategy for what may seem like a trivial task: figuring out which subway car to ride in so that I’m closest to the exit when I reach my final station.

Some of the city’s stations are quite expansive, and have multiple exits. Knowing how to beat the crowds out of the station can save substantial time.

(Indeed, from a design perspective, I find it fitting that the icon, above, features a stick figure in mid-run. This feels like an apt graphical representation of NYC transport from a commuter’s perspective.)

Exit Strategy’s station maps look like this:

2013 03 24 exit strat1

And here’s what the street-level maps look like:

2013 03 24 exit strat2

Readers who navigate NYC’s public transportation system: What are your favorite apps? Am I missing any gems?

(NYC subway image: Wikipedia.)

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