For my job at Cult of Mac, I test a lot of apps. But of course, I also use a lot of apps, for work, for recreation, and for making music. I thought I’d make a short list of my most-used apps this year. Few, if any, of these apps are new this year, although some of them received major updates in 2019. But all of them are excellent, well-made apps, well worth checking out.
So, let’s get started.
Launchbar is so essential that a Mac without it feels broken. Launchbar, and other launcher apps like Alfred, let you use the keyboard to control and navigate your computer. Hit ⌘-Space, the default shortcut, and a small panel opens. Type into that panel, and the magic happens. It can be the name of an app, a song, a file or folder, a web-search term. You can run Applescripts, eject disks, change the volume, sleep the Mac, and on and on.
Spotlight offers a small subset of these features, but Launchbar learns from you, and is about one million times more useful.
Download: Launchbar from the Obdev (macOS)
I use a lot of music apps on the iPad, but the one I’ve loved the most this year is Beatmaker 3. If you’re familiar with Ableton Live on Macs and PCs, then you’ll understand the concept. You get the established timeline view, where each track gets a horizontal bar, and you can record and edit therein. But it also has a grid-like clip view that shares the same recordings, so you can quickly launch sections on the fly — ideal for compositions and live performances.
But the reason I love BM3 is that it is so fast to use, and so powerful. Like Apple’s own apps, it has a few odd conventions that make first-time use awkward — I tried it a few times before I understood it. But stick with it and the rewards are many. Sampling, or recording snippets from external instruments, is not only simple, but so easy, and so powerful, that the sampler alone could sell for hundreds of dollars on the desktop. It’s also rock-solid (early problems gave it a reputation for crashes, but that’s all in the past).
Beatmaker 3 might not be my favorite place to finalize arrangements and sizes, but for getting a song started, and assembling all the elements, there’s nothing like it — not even on the Mac.
Download: BeatMaker 3 from the App Store (iOS)
Ulysses is the text-editing app that I use to write all my Cult of Mac articles. It uses the principles of Markdown syntax, but also lets you drag in images and add captions, add notes, and tags your articles/notes/story chapters. It is happy dealing with many thousands of documents, and everything is kept inside the app, so you never have to scour the Finder for a lost item.
When you’re done writing, the app lets you export your text to beautiful, custom-formatted PDFs, web pages, EPUBs, or to WordPress (how I use it). The idea is that the writing part is done in plain text, and the exporting part is a separate step. This means that you don’t get locked into a single format early on, like you do with something like Word or Pages.
Ulysses works on both iOS and macOS, and all your work syncs between the two. It’s even good on the iPhone.
Price: Free with subscription
Download: Ulysses from the App Store (iOS)
Using Twitter and Facebook for news is a fools’ game. If you miss a Tweet in a feed, you’ve probably missed it forever. Most websites also make their articles available as a machine-readable list, called an RSS feed. If you add this link to an app like Fiery Feeds or Reeder, then you get all those new posts, all in one app. You can organize them into categories and folders, and you can read them as beautifully-formatted, text-and-images-only articles, without ads or Twitter buttons.
Reeder is the better-looking of the two, but Fiery Feeds is more powerful and customizable. I can, for example, add an article directly to my Things to-do list with a single swipe.
Price: Free with subscription
Download: Fiery Feeds: RSS Reader from the App Store (iOS)
Download: Reeder 4 from the App Store (iOS)
If you watch movies and TV shows on the iPad, then you should check out Infuse. It grabs album art, arranges series into playlists, tracks your progress through episodes, automatically grabs subtitles, and can play back video from external drives (yes, on iOS), as well as stream from popular online storage services.
If you stream all your TV and movies from Hulu, Apple TV+, Netflix, and so on, then you don’t need Infuse. But if you download your movies and shows, or keep them in the cloud, then you should totally check it out.
Download: Infuse 6 from the App Store (iOS)