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Posts tagged with "must-have"

My Must-Have Mac Apps, 2017 Edition

It’s been quite a year. At the start, I was still commuting to Chicago every day to work in a law office full of Windows PCs. Now I work from my home studio surrounded by Apple hardware, moving back and forth from a late-2016 MacBook Pro to iOS devices as I write and talk about apps each day.

When I was commuting, iOS played a central role. I was on the move and used my iPhone and iPad to write for MacStories when I wasn’t practicing law. Now, I have a dedicated workspace where I connect my MacBook Pro to a 4K 27” display and a fast, wired Internet connection.

During 2017, the work I do changed too. Not only did I leave my law job, but in addition to writing at MacStories, Federico and I launched AppStories, and I began selling sponsorships for the site and podcast.

With no commute, a dedicated workspace, and massive change in the work I do each day, how I get work done has changed significantly too. I continue to work on macOS and iOS, but the Mac now plays a bigger role in my workday than ever before. I haven’t abandoned iOS for work, but now, I work on iOS because I want to, not because I need to.

Just over two months into working from home, I’ve begun to reevaluate how I use the Mac. I expect to continue evolving how I work on macOS throughout 2018 as I feel my way around the best ways to be productive. Still, a couple of overarching themes can be seen in my picks below that I expect will continue to guide me in 2018.

First, I primarily use my Mac for work. If I watch a video, read a book or article, or play a game, it’s more likely to happen on iOS, which I expect to continue. The primary exception to that rule is listening to music, which I often do as I work. Second, I don’t like to be limited to macOS. As much as I work on my Mac, I value the option to do things like pick up my iPad to read email messages or grab my iPhone while I’m away from home to make a quick edit to something I’m writing.

With that context, below are 40 Mac apps and a few web services that I used this year and consider my must-have apps, divided into seven categories:

  • Writing
  • Reading and Research
  • Images and Video
  • Podcast Recording and Production
  • Utilities
  • Communications
  • Task Management and Planning

I’ve also included a few awards at the end of the story that highlight some of my favorites among the exceptional group of apps I use every day on my Mac, including an App of the Year.

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My Must-Have iOS Apps, 2017 Edition

With the transition to iPad Pro as my primary computer fully achieved in 2016 and not surprising anymore, in 2017 I turned my attention to three other key areas of my life: working with the MacStories team, managing my time, and finding my favorite apps among many competing alternatives.

For the first time in several years, I didn't publish a story documenting my journey towards the iPad and iOS in 2017. In many ways, that's a closed chapter of my career: the iPad Pro has convinced millions of people that it can be a suitable replacement for or addition to a Mac; with iOS 11 and its productivity features, Apple only cemented that belief. While part of me misses arguing in favor of the iPad against widespread skepticism, I felt it was time to move on from explaining the "why" of the iPad to helping others get the most out of the device. For this reason, I spent the better part of 2017 covering iOS 11 (first with my wish list, then with an in-depth review), discussing the details of iPad productivity, and creating advanced workflows for Club MacStories.

As much as I like to write in isolation, MacStories is also a team that requires a direction and a business that begets further responsibilities. Learning how to balance the multifaceted nature of my job with my hobbies and personal life (which got busier thanks to two puppies we adopted in April) has been an interesting challenge this year, and one that taught me a lot about allocating my time and attention, as well as the kind of writer I am and aspire to be.

There has been a recurring theme that has characterized my relationship with iOS in 2017: I've made a conscious effort to try as many new apps and services as possible, ensuring I would have a basic knowledge of all the available options on the market for different categories.

As I was settling on a routine and set of apps that worked well for me, I realized that I didn't want to lose the spark of excitement I used to feel when trying new apps in previous years. My job is predicated upon writing about software and having a sense of where our industry is going; while finding something that works and using it for years is great, I don't want to become the kind of tech writer who's stuck in his ways and doesn't consider the possibility that better software might exist and is worth writing about. Even though my experiments didn't always lead to switching to a different app, they made me appreciate the state of the iOS ecosystem and helped me understand my app preferences in 2017.

Thus, I'm going back to basics for my annual roundup this year. In the collection below, you'll find the 75 apps I consider my must-haves – no web services, just apps for iPhone and iPad. Apps are organized by category and, whenever possible, include links to past coverage on MacStories.

As in previous years, you'll find a series of personal awards at the end of the story. These include my App of the Year and Runners-Up; this year, I also picked winners for Feature, Redesign, Update, and Debut of the Year.

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    My Must-Have iOS Apps & Web Services, 2016 Edition

    2016 has been the year that I got used to iOS as my primary computing platform. After years of slowly transitioning from macOS, 2016 was all about optimizing my workflows and getting the most out of my iPhone and iPad.

    As I documented in two stories – one in February, the other last week – the consolidation of my iOS-only setup revolved around the iPad Pro. I see the 12.9-inch iPad Pro as the ultimate expression of iOS for portable productivity. With my 2011 MacBook Air now used three hours a week exclusively for podcasting, I invested my time in understanding the iPad platform at a deeper level. Thus, following two years spent assessing the viability of working from iOS, 2016 was characterized by the pursuit of better iOS apps for my needs. That effort was most notable on the iPad, but it also affected the iPhone, which I see as the mobile sidekick to my iPad Pro.

    Two trends emerged once I began outlining a list of candidates for my annual Must-Have Apps roundup. First, the apps that define how I work on iOS haven't dramatically changed since last year. As you'll see in this year's collection, the core of what I do on iOS is in line with last year; there are some new entries and apps that have left the list, but my overall app usage is consistent with 2015.

    The second pattern is more interesting. To be able to accomplish more every week and automate more aspects of my routine, I have increasingly switched to web services in lieu of iOS-only apps. In looking back at the past year of MacStories, I realized that a good portion of new workflows were based on web services, web automations, and open APIs. Some of those web services also offer iOS clients; others are strictly web-only, but I integrated them with iOS apps through Workflow and Zapier.

    For these reasons, you'll notice a difference in the 2016 edition of my roundup. In addition to my must-have iOS apps, I've added a section for my must-have web services. Whether I primarily use them with iOS counterparts, in Safari, or via an API, these are the web services that have helped me handle more responsibilities for my two businesses at MacStories and podcasting duties at Relay FM.

    As in previous years, you'll find a series of personal awards at the end of the story. These include my App of the Year and Runners-Up, and, for the first time, a Web Service of the Year and winners in other iOS categories.

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    My Must-Have iOS Apps, 2015 Edition

    Over the past year, I've gone all-in with iOS.

    Following years of experiments, struggles to switch from a Mac-centric workflow, and encouraging signs of maturity from the platform, I chose to make the iPad my primary computer. I used the iPad Air 2 more than any other iOS device before, and the iPad Pro is filling that role now with great success. After being convinced to give the iPhone 6 Plus a try by a good friend, I realized that a bigger phone was better for my needs, which resulted in an instant 6s Plus purchase a few months ago. The iPhone isn't only my pocket computer and Twitter machine – it's my music, my camera (which I used to shoot this video), my portable gaming device, and my stream of living memories thanks to Live Photos.

    At this point, I'm only using my MacBook three hours a week to record two podcasts on Skype. Effectively, all my computing – work or entertainment-related – is done on iOS, and I treat my iPhone and iPad with the same care and respect that others would treat their Retina iMacs and Mac Pros. The iPad Pro in particular is the computer that enables me to write and pay the bills. It's not just a nice thing to have – it's the tool upon which my livelihood hinges.

    It's not surprising, then, that I'm just as scrupulous when it comes to the apps I choose to get work done. While part of my job is about discovering new apps, such effort isn't mandated by a shallow pursuit of "new" without merit. I'm constantly on the lookout for tools that can make me faster, produce better content in less time, and approach what I do in different ways. It's a functional curiosity, not a shtick. The virtuous cycle of finding new apps, trying them, and documenting what trickles down to my daily workflow is at the very foundation of MacStories.

    At the end of the year, I always like to take a couple of weeks to look back on the past 12 months and assess the state of my favorite apps. I've been doing this in various forms for five years now, but I've kept the same criteria in mind: which apps truly help me work from my iPhone and iPad? What are the tools that let me enjoy my devices for personal and professional use as much as possible?

    With the increased importance of iOS 9 and the iPad Pro in my life this year and given some growing trends on the App Store, I thought I'd shake things up a little. Instead of having two separate articles for my must-have iPhone and iPad apps, I combined my 50 picks in a single list and organized them in eight categories.

    • Work Essentials
    • Social
    • News
    • Health
    • Home
    • Entertainment
    • Utilities
    • Photo & Video

    I believe this makes sense given that only 7 apps out of 50 are not Universal downloads from the App Store. The vast majority of my favorite apps are available on both the iPhone and iPad and I use them on both platforms; it's more logical to consider them as single entities.

    Below, you'll find my Must-Have iOS Apps for 2015 – the ones that have been essential for my workflow over the past 12 months. At the end of the list, you'll also find my App of the Year and two Runners-Up. Each app has been listed with a direct link to its App Store page; wherever possible, I included links to previous MacStories coverage as well.

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    My Must-Have iPhone Apps, 2014 Edition

    For the past four years, I’ve been running a series called My Must-Have Apps that, once a year, collects all the apps I find indispensable to get work done on my iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Considering changes to my daily life and workflow, this year only features my must-have iPad and iPhone apps.

    The iPhone has changed my professional life, and it’s a powerful and essential pocket computer that I carry with me all the time. But I prefer to get work done on my iPad.

    There was a time when I thought that I could work entirely from my iPhone; after upgrading to a cellular iPad two years ago and once I began moving to an iPad-centric workflow, I realized that the tablet was the iOS device that I preferred for writing, reading, doing email, and watching movies. For millions of users, the iPhone turns into a mobile computer as soon as they step away from the comfort of a desk with a Mac. But I’ve come to realize that I’d rather have two iOS devices with me at all times – a smaller iPhone and a bigger iPad – than one that tries to do everything at once. Which is why, ultimately, I decided to go with an iPhone 6 and an iPad Air 2 this year.

    In spite of my personal preference, though, I can’t deny the fact that, nowadays, it’s hard to find iOS apps – and especially utilities or productivity-related apps – that aren’t Universal. The trend of “iPad-only” and “iPhone-only” apps has been substantially downsized in recent years – none of the apps on my iPad Home screen are exclusive to the iPad at this point. So while I like and use the iPhone more for listening to music, taking pictures, or monitoring my health data, I still end up installing a text editor, a shortcut launcher, and a Python interpreter on my iPhone because they’re available and because why not. This isn’t an ideal scenario – too many developers are making iOS apps that simply scale across screen sizes without taking advantage of the unique features of each platform – but that’s beyond the scope of this series.

    It was tough to compile a list of must-have iPhone apps this year: I’ve already covered most of them in my iPad article, and I don’t use the iPhone as much as my iPad. But at the same time, I realized that, for those times when I needed to work from my iPhone, those smaller iPad apps were absolutely necessary, even if not running on a screen size that I’m comfortable with. And, more importantly, I believe the article can be useful to readers who had no interest in iPad apps and my iPad workflow.

    This year, I’ve only covered iPad and iPhone apps, as I practically don’t use a Mac anymore. For apps shared across my iPad and iPhone, I used the same base descriptions, with differences for the iPhone versions noted and rewritten where necessary. This is a remix and addendum to my must-have iPad apps.

    In the list below, you’ll find apps organized in seven sections:

    • Work Essentials
    • Social
    • Audio and Music
    • Photos and Screenshots
    • News
    • Health
    • Utilities

    At the end of the article, you’ll also find my iPhone App of the Year and a Runner-up. Each app has a direct iTunes link, and, where possible, I’ve included links to previous MacStories coverage as well.

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    My Must-Have iPad Apps, 2014 Edition

    For the past four years, I've been running a series called My Must-Have Apps that, once a year, collects all the apps I find indispensable to get work done on my iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Considering changes to my daily life and workflow, this year will only feature my must-have iPad and iPhone apps. As with last year, I want to start from the iPad.

    Over the past two and a half years, my workflow has become increasingly iOS-centric. Changes in my personal and professional life have convinced me that iOS is the best platform for me, with a rich ecosystem of apps that allow me to work faster and more efficiently no matter where I am. This year, my iPad has essentially replaced my MacBook Air, which I now primarily use to watch movies and record podcasts.

    There's a few tasks that I still can't get done on an iPad, but the list is shrinking, and, thanks to iOS 8, developers are coming up with new ways to make working on iOS more feasible and pleasant. I don't use my iPad as a computer just to prove a point or because it's a popular topic among readers and listeners of Connected: I need my iPad, the apps it runs, and the workflows I've created to automate what I do on iOS.

    It is with extreme seriousness, then, that I take a look at the apps I consider my “must-haves” each December and compile them in a list for MacStories. This allows me to sit down and calmly evaluate how I use my devices, the software I depend on, and how much the way I use apps has changed in 12 months.

    This year, I'll only cover iPad and iPhone apps, starting with the iPad. In the list below, you'll find apps organized in eight sections:

    • Work Essentials (apps that I need and use for work every day)
    • Social
    • News & Links (apps to read and discover interesting news)
    • Audio (apps for music and podcasts)
    • Calculators
    • Images
    • Extensions, Widgets, and Keyboards
    • Everything Else

    At the end of the article, you'll also find a few statistics about this year's collection as compared to last year's and my iPad App of the Year. Each app has a direct iTunes link, and, where possible, I've included links to previous MacStories coverage as well.

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    My Must-Have iPhone Apps, 2013 Edition

    Must-Have iPhone Apps 2013

    Must-Have iPhone Apps 2013

    For the past three years, I’ve been running a series called “My Must-Have Mac Apps” that, once a year, would list the apps that I found indispensable on my Mac. This year, considering the changes that I went through from a workflow perspective, I thought it would be appropriate to start focusing on iOS as well. The first installment was about the iPad; then, I covered the Mac; today, I’m going to conclude this year's series with the iPhone.

    Like many others, I don’t use the “phone” part of the iPhone much. The iPhone is my portable computer. And I have lots of apps on it.

    My workflow has changed a lot over the years. I used to have a MacBook Pro and I later got an iMac and replaced the MacBook Pro with a MacBook Air. I thought that I’d always need the Air but then I was forced to work from an iPad and I didn’t like it. As I kept trying, I ended up liking my iPad setup so much that I turned it into a tool more versatile than my Mac and wrote a book on it. But the way I use my iPhone has never changed: the iPhone is the computer that’s always with me. If anything, the software that runs on it has evolved through the years, with apps getting more powerful, inter-connected, and, in some cases, “desktop class”. And then, earlier this year, iOS 7 happened.

    As expected, iOS 7 provided a fantastic opportunity for developers to reimagine and redesign their apps to take advantage of Apple’s new OS features and design language. Three months into iOS 7, I think that the developer response has been remarkable, but the results are very much still in flux. For the apps that I use on a daily basis, I’ve seen a few major relaunches of apps rebuilt from the ground-up for iOS 7, apps that still have to be optimized for it, and a lot of “compatibility redesigns” that brought lighter color schemes and translucencies without substantially altering the way an app works or is structured for iOS 7. As Apple itself is still trying to fully understand their own new design language, I think it’s fair to assume that third-party developers will need more time to really “get” iOS 7.

    As I thought about the apps I wanted to include in this year’s last installment of the Must-Have Apps series, I realized that there was a good mixture of software that was built before and after iOS 7. As usual, my goal was to mention apps that I consider must-haves for my daily workflow, and for this reason you’ll find a mix of brand new iOS 7 apps, minor iOS 7 design updates, and a few pre-iOS 7 apps too. When it comes to having the best tool for the job, I value utility over fashion, and I cherish an old app if it still is the best for me.

    The list below includes my 50 top picks and is organized in four sections: Main, for apps that I use several times every day; News, for discovering links and staying on top of RSS; Entertainment, for media consumption; and Utilities, for single-purpose apps that I use often but not heavily every day. Each app is listed with its App Store link and, at the end of the article, you’ll find my iPhone app of the year.

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    My Must-Have Mac Apps, 2013 Edition

    Must Have Mac Apps 2013

    Must Have Mac Apps 2013

    For the past three years, I’ve been running a series called “My Must-Have Mac Apps” that, once a year, would list the apps that I found indispensable on my Mac. This year, considering the changes that I went through from a workflow perspective, I thought it would be appropriate to start focusing on iOS as well. The first installment was about the iPad; today, I’m going to talk about the Mac.

    As I wrote when Mavericks was released, I don’t need my Mac as much as I used to. I can do most of my work from iOS (particularly from my iPad mini), but that doesn’t mean that I don’t need a Mac for some tasks or that I’ve stopped using it altogether. I still have to use a few OS X-only apps and tools to get work done – stuff that wouldn’t be possible on an iPad, no matter how hard I try.

    I may not be covering new Mac app releases on a weekly basis anymore, but, honestly, 2013 has been the year of iOS 7, with thousands of third-party developers shifting their focus to Apple’s mobile platform in order to update and redesign their apps in time for September. And the fact that Mavericks didn’t bring a radical new design or groundbreaking user features didn’t help either, as developers of Mac apps chose to release updates that focused on under-the-hood improvements and general optimizations.

    And yet, in spite of a new design direction and several changes to built-in apps, iOS 7 still doesn’t come with valid alternatives to the stuff OS X is great at: a filesystem with easy management of files that can be opened by multiple apps, precision editing with a cursor, command line utilities, system-wide automation tools, and more. For as much as the iOS ecosystem is maturing and changing at an incredible pace, I haven’t stopped using my Mac and there are some things that can only be done on OS X. And therefore, like every year, I have put together a list of the apps that I consider my must-haves – apps that I install every time I set up my Mac and that I use regularly.

    This year, I’ve simplified the list and gotten rid of extra layers for apps that I’m no longer using. You can compare the 2013 list to last year’s one and follow links from there to go back to previous years. You also won’t find last year’s section for price and Mac App Store stats at the bottom: developers often make price changes and release new versions of their apps outside the Mac App Store, so, ultimately, those stats couldn’t be properly contextualized over time.

    The list below is organized in four sections: Main, for apps that I use several times every day; Writing, for tools that I employ to research and craft articles for MacStories; and Image & Video Editing, listing apps that allow me to put together screencasts, GIFs, and images for the site. Each app is listed with its App Store/website link and, at the end of the article, you’ll find my Mac app of the year.
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    My Must-Have iPad Apps, 2013 Edition

    Must Have iPad Apps 2013

    Must Have iPad Apps 2013

    For the past three years, I’ve been running a series called “My Must-Have Mac Apps” that, once a year, would list the apps that I found indispensable on my Mac. This year, considering the changes that I went through from a workflow perspective, I thought it would be appropriate to start focusing on iOS as well. I’d like to start with the iPad.

    I’ve been working primarily from my iPad for the past 15 months. For a variety of personal reasons that I’ve discussed before, I found myself unable to work from my Mac every day, so I decided to try and see whether the iPad and iOS could be viable OS X replacements -- not just companions. I ended up enjoying the iPad as a work device and, eventually, as a primary device powered by terrific apps that allow me to be more efficient on iOS.

    From a high-level, conceptual standpoint, this isn’t a new topic for MacStories readers or listeners of The Prompt. In the end, though, it all comes down to the apps – the software that I use on my iPad for work and play, for productivity and entertainment.

    Hence, “My Must-Have iPad Apps”. I consider this the first installment, even though it technically isn’t: I published similar articles in 2010 and 2011, but I skipped 2012 – the year when I really got serious about working from the iPad. This year’s installment is a reboot of the iPad series, which I’m going to publish regularly from now on; if you want, you can check back on the old articles linked above to see if there are apps that I’ve been using for three years (spoiler: yes).

    The list below is organized in four sections: Main, for apps that I use several times every day; News, for discovering links and staying on top of RSS; Entertainment, for media consumption; and Utilities, for single-purpose apps that I use often but not heavily every day. Each app is listed with its App Store link and, at the end of the article, you’ll find my iPad app of the year. Read more