This week's sponsor

Affinity

super-fast, powerful, professional apps for modern creative people


My Must-Have Mac Apps, 2017 Edition

Feature of the Year

Pixelmator Pro’s Automatic Layer Naming

Machine learning was a common buzzword thrown about more often in 2017 than it was put to good use. Pixelmator Pro bucked that trend by using machine learning to automatically name images added in as new layers to the app. Drag in photos of a dog, a landscape, and a building and your layers will be named things like puppy, trees, and skyscraper. The feature is surprisingly accurate and a great time saver for organizing complex image projects.

Runner-Up

Todoist’s Task Syntax

There’s a learning curve with Todoist’s task syntax, but once you speak its language, you can become a master of sending tasks to the right projects with labels and proper due dates. As I think of something I need to do, it’s become second nature to summon Todoist’s input field and quickly type a task, complete with syntax, and receive the satisfaction of knowing it will be where I want it when I go back and look, instead of piling up unprocessed in an inbox.

Redesign of the Year

Pixelmator Pro

Pixelmator was my go-to image editor before the Pro version was released earlier this year and would have made my must-have list without the new Pro version. However, Pixelmator Pro is a full redesign of the app that does two things I absolutely love. First, it stashes tools in side panels where it’s easier to find them, eliminating the jumble of palettes used by the standard version. Second, its dark gray color scheme puts the focus on the image you’re working on, which makes it a delight to use.

Update of the Year

MindNode 5

I wasn’t a fan of mind maps, but something about MindNode 5 clicked with me. With an update this fall, the app got a new look, improved outline view, and many other features that together have made mind mapping feel as natural as typing a nested outline. The ability to quickly organize thoughts with only the keyboard in a way that looks good, without fiddling with settings, has made the app one of my favorite releases of the year.

Runner-Up

Bartender 3

Bartender is an essential tool for taming a wild menu bar full of apps. Even with Bartender though, it can be hard to find the app you’re looking for, which is why I was so happy to see that Bartender 3 added search support. In addition, the app has been built from the ground up with macOS High Sierra in mind, with a look that is right at home on a modern Mac.

Debut of the Year

Forecast

I wouldn’t normally pick a beta app as a Debut of the Year, but Forecast by Marco Arment is far more stable than the typical beta and was used in production by Arment and other podcasters for months before its public release. The app is lightning fast at encoding podcast episodes as MP3s and supports chapter markers, show art, and other little time savers that anyone who has produced a podcast will appreciate.

App of the Year

Ulysses

There’s no single app I use more than Ulysses. Despite a few eccentricities, the app handles the entire writing process with a simple, elegant design that belies the sophistication that underlies it. I especially like how Ulysses handles Markdown, its ability to hide distracting UI chrome from view, and the WordPress integration.

Runner-Up

iZotope RX Standard

There’s no doubt that you can produce a good-sounding podcast with free or inexpensive tools. iZotope RX, however, is one of my favorite apps of 2017 because it helped shorten the production time of AppStories while simultaneously making it sound better, which made it a good investment despite its hefty price tag.


Looking Ahead

As 2017 comes to a close, I’m on my Mac more than ever. A lot of that has to do with changes in how I work and what I do, which in turn is reflected in the tools I use. That seems incredibly obvious as I write it, but too often the discussion of apps and productivity winds up divorced from the work itself. After all, it’s the changes in my work and life that should affect the apps I use, not the other way around.

Although 2017 has seen a shift towards Mac apps, my overall approach remains a hybrid one. Nowhere is this more evident than on Friday mornings when I sit at my desk assembling MacStories Weekly – juggling Safari, PopClip, Ulysses, Byword, GitHub Desktop, Slack, and Airmail on my Mac, while switching periodically to Tweetbot, Photos, Workflow, Working Copy, Blink, and Pythonista on my iPhone. I enjoy working in both OSes and don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Perhaps it’s just a reflection of the exciting direction that iOS 11 has taken the iPad Pro, but the one thing that makes me slightly uncomfortable with my hybrid approach is that the Mac app ecosystem has stagnated in recent years. At the same time, even though the Mac app landscape is littered with a broken store and developer resources that lag behind their iOS counterparts, the iMac Pro, upcoming Mac Pro, and updated pro apps serve as a beacon of hope that the best days of macOS are not behind it.

I don’t have a crystal ball into the future of Mac apps, but I do know I can count on change. And with the introduction of new Mac hardware, I know I can also count on developers to push that hardware's limits with apps I can’t wait to try in 2018 and beyond.

Unlock MacStories Extras

Club MacStories offers exclusive access to extra MacStories content, delivered every week; it's also a way to support us directly.

Club MacStories will help you discover the best apps for your devices and get the most out of your iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Plus, it's made in Italy.

Starting at $5/month, with an annual option available. Join the Club.

A Club MacStories membership includes:

  • MacStories Weekly newsletter, delivered every week on Friday with app collections, tips, iOS workflows, and more;
  • Monthly Log newsletter, delivered once every month with behind-the-scenes stories, app notes, personal journals, and more;
  • Access to occasional giveaways, discounts, and free downloads.