My Mac Apps of the Year

With a hat tip to Gabe Weatherhead at MacDrifter who put together his list of favourite Mac applications for 2017, I am following suit.

Third party apps are what make a platform great. Despite the macOS ecosystem perhaps not being as vibrant as it once was, it is still served by a wonderful cohort of professional and hard-working developers. Even though I’ve bought their apps, I sometimes feel I owe them more because using their software is what makes using my Mac both fun and productive.

There’s a long tail of apps I use beyond those included in this list. Yet these I have detailed below are those I used extensively in 2017 and that I value and enjoy. These are the apps that I would most miss if they suddenly went away.

1Password for Families

Online security is no joke. It’s easy to dismiss password hygiene as tin-foil hat material, but when you think how much of our lives are conducted online, I don’t want a veneer of security — I want an ironclad guarantee. 1Password guarantees I can have unique complex passwords for every site that I maintain an account. I have no idea what any of these passwords are. But I do know my password to unlock 1Password. After that, it’s nothing but ⌘-\ to long me in anywhere.

1Password for Families | US$4.99 per month


I’ve waxed lyrical about OmniFocus before. Without this app there is no way I would be able to keep all my balls in the air. As much as parts of its design frustrate me, and the pace of its development is glacial, it works. Every day it delivers value by making my life easier. There are sexier to-do apps out there, but OmniFocus is rock solid.

OmniFocus Pro | US$79.99


My wife doesn’t have Launchbar installed on her MacBook. So when I try to use it, I feel lost. After years of use Launchbar feels an extension of the operating system and is completely engrained in my muscle memory. I switched to Launchbar years ago after Quicksilver became unstable and I’ve stayed ever since. I know others swear by Alfred, but I’m definitely a Launchbar guy.

Launchbar | US$29


I love this app even though I do have to work hard to find a truly worthwhile use for it. I definitely underuse Bear, but I really like it. For the emotional response, I’m keeping it in my list. But there is still a nagging feeling that between Apple Notes, Ulysses and DevonThink Pro, I really shouldn’t need this app. But it is really nice.

Bear | US$14.99 per year


My key authoring application in which I write blog posts, work reports and other bits and pieces. For report writing as part of my day job Ulysses has this year supplanted Scrivener. For my blogging, Ulysses has withstood challenges from Bear and MarsEdit. It is a wonderful writing app and I enjoy that I have access to it through my Setapp subscription. If I didn’t have Setapp, I would subscribe to Ulysses directly without a moment’s hesitation.

Ulysses | AU$54.99 per year

DEVONthink Pro

The archive. The place I keep all my reference, research and archival material. I don’t use it for all that it can do; for instance I don’t create documents in DEVONthink despite it having the ability to do so. But for archiving, storing and searching, nothing beats it.

DEVONthink Pro | AU$104.13


This is a cross-platform Java app, so it’s ugly as sin. It’s also about the only share market application available for Mac. Fortunately it works well and gives me all the information I need to track my portfolio.

StockMarketEye | US$99.95


I have never given up on RSS, even through the dark days after the Google Reader shutdown. I love the independent web and follow a range of sites religiously. On the Mac Reeder is the best way to do this.

Reeder | US$9.99

PDF Expert

PDF Expert has replaced Preview for PDF viewing and editing. Preview’s editing toolbars have always been inscrutable to me whereas PDF Expert makes sense. The bugginess that was introduced to the PDF engine in MacOS Sierra was the final nail in the coffin and ensured my switch to PDF Expert.

PDF Expert | US$65.99


While the native Mac calendar app has improved, I still prefer having more power and flexibility to manage my calendars. While Fantastical always gets the glory as the sexy third party calendar option, BusyCal blends in and does the job quietly and effectively. I use this app daily. Its ability to save and restore different calendar sets give me helpful insights into my scheduled life.

BusyCal | US$49.99

Hardware Decisions are Hard

In the aftermath of Apple’s WWDC conference and an almost unprecedented number of new pieces of hardware have been released at what is theoretically a software development conference, I get to do some imaginary shopping.

For the past 18 months, Apple’s hardware lineup has been so out of date (except for iPhone, of course) that I’ve not even wanted to buy anything with imaginary money. They’ve righted the ship now, but in doing so are almost listing to the other side. Now it’s so difficult to identify the perfect device, I’m paralysed by choice.1


With regard to the Mac lineup, the 5K iMacs with P3 panels and Kaby Lake processors represent the first time I’ve been tempted by a desktop computer in about a decade. Combining this with extended iPad use as a mobile platform could actually work, come iOS 11.

But laptops are still the most flexible option. The MacBook (Adorable) is becoming competitive and is so diminutive, but it is still hamstrung by having a single port and when stacking price against performance, perhaps a MacBook Pro is the better option. The MacBook (Escape) is probably the pick here. Touchbar seems like a dead end that the market nor developers are excited by. Yet only the Touchbar models have TouchID which is a useful feature.

So, in terms of macOS, the most sensible use for my imaginary money is to keep it in my pocket and instead wander over to the iOS table, and see if this is an easier decision. My existing 2013 MacBook Pro has a few more years left in it, anyway.


This is the Apple cash cow platform, so what have they got to sell me? In terms of iPhones, I’m not even looking. Work provides me with an iPhone SE which is a form factor I quite like for basic tasks, and I’m not about to absorb another phone contract. Anyway, this is not an iPhone release event, so let’s move to iPad.


I’ve been a believer in iPad since it was released and I put in my pre-order as soon as the online store switched to pre-sale. I’ve been wanting to upgrade my iPad Air, and the first compelling reason to do that was the iPad Pro 12.9″ (1st gen). But then the iPad Pro 9.7″ was released and everything got out of sync with what model had what features. I knew the sensible thing to do was wait for the next revision.

My waiting has paid off, because these are the devices I’ve dreamed of. Beautiful 120Hz ProMotion displays, accelerated Pencil sampling and come iOS 11, proper support for multitasking. Yes, I want one! But which one? The 10.5″ looks to be everything I could want, until I realise it doesn’t support two full screen iPad apps side-by-side. One of them has to use the iPhone view controller. That does not fit with my productivity needs.

So it looks like it falls to the iPad Pro 12.9 (2nd gen). This has all the power I want, but I will be trading off couch comfort. Where is my Goldilocks iPad?!

Missing the four quadrant product matrix

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple and started its turnaround, one of the first things he did was rationalise the product line down to a four quadrant matrix. It was simple: on one axis, professionalconsumer, on the other axis, laptopdesktop. Here was enough breathing room between each of the specs and the prices of these machines that it became quite easy to choose which was for you.

Now, as Apple’s product line expands, they have a much larger matrix. This has resulted in overlaps across price, capability and function. Is the iPad a suitable laptop replacement; or is a laptop a necessary complement to an iPhone?

With my imaginary money, I think my decision is to keep my MacBook Pro and replace my ageing iPad Air with an iPad Pro 12.9″. That should be enough to keep me going for the next year or two, at which point solving the computer problem will be a more pressing problem which I hope, by that time, has a more apparent solution.

  1. They have become a perfect example of the theory of paradox of choice.