As far as operating systems go, macOS for Apple computers is stable and efficient, but sometimes it feels annoyingly incomplete. Apple doesn't often listen to its customers, stubbornly refusing to add simple features that would make the platform even easier to use. Stock Apple apps often lack a lot of the functionality we expect in other programs. From what Apple's shown us in its preview of Monterey, the next major MacOS update, some omissions won't disappear anytime soon.
Thankfully, there are downloadable programs that can solve these problems. I've collected a handful of the best Mac apps that help me almost every day. 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 or not to buy. It's also common for them to sync with companion apps on your iPhone. Check out the below list and give them a try. These MacOS apps might just make your life a little easier.
Also, be sure to check out our many other guides, including the Best MacBooks, Best iPads, Best iPhones, and How to Back Up Your iPhone.
Updated October 2021: We've adjusted pricing and added two new programs we like.
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For a Better User ExperienceBetterSnapTool ($3)
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 is another good option that costs the same.
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.
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 pay 29 British pounds (around $40) for a single user license to access the full feature set of version 4.0 or 49 British pounds (around $67) 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 per month, you get access to the service on three devices simultaneously.
For a Better Writing ExperienceLibreOffice (Free)
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 and using it a lot.
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 other 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 is free, but a one-time $50 purchase nets you upgrades and more features.
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.
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 ExperienceApolloOne (Free)
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 free version has limits on what you can do, but it's a good way to see if you'll want to pay $20 for the full experience. 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 OrganizationHazel ($42)
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, $119 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. It all automatically updates too! Deliveries switched to a subscription-based pricing model recently. You now have to pay $5 per year or 99 cents per month.
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, but you have to buy that separately for $5. It's also available on Windows and Android for the same prices, respectively, 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).
You should also back up your files regularly in several places for redundancy, both on physical hard drives and on a secure cloud service such as Amazon AWS or BackBlaze. There's a saying that if data doesn't exist in three places, it doesn't really exist at all. Three copies are a minimum, and five isn't too paranoid. Once you lose non-backed-up data, it's too late, and those photos of your best friends and you on spring break are gone forever. To automate your cloud backups, you can use an app. I prefer MSP 360, which is still informally known by its previous name, CloudBerry. It's free to use.