27 Best Mac Apps That I Can’t Live Without

Kim Koh 20 min read
27 Best Mac Apps That I Can’t Live Without

In this post, we're going to talk about the best Mac apps that I can't live without.

Okay, a little exaggerated, but they've definitely made my life easier.

And I want to share them with you to hopefully make your life easier too.

Let's get into it.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I'll get a kickback if you decide to purchase through my links, at no additional cost to you. But rest assured that I only recommend products I personally stand behind 🫡
  1. 1Password
  2. Alfred
  3. Bartender
  4. Canary Mail
  5. CleanMyMac
  6. CleanShot
  7. Downie
  8. Forklift
  9. iStat Menus
  10. Karabiner-Elements
  11. Ludwig
  12. Luminar AI
  13. Lunar
  14. Mosaic
  15. One Switch
  16. Parcel
  17. Paste
  18. PDFpen
  19. Permute
  20. PixelSnap
  21. PhotoBulk
  22. Short Menu
  23. Sip
  24. Step Two
  25. TextSniper
  26. ToothFairy
  27. YoudaoDict

1. 1Password

I started using a password manager when I subscribed to Setapp about three years ago.

I first used Secrets because it's the only password manager included in the subscription.

It worked fine… until I had to retrieve my passwords in Windows. It only works with macOS and iOS.

So I switched over to 1Password and things have been working fine so far.

I used to use the same password for all my logins. It's stupid, I know.

Today, I use different passwords for all my logins and those passwords look something like this:

rptwj6fJq2V3Q*epj2n._PU@@TV

And no, I can't remember any of those.

Fortunately, I don't have to.

I only need to remember the one to unlock my 1Password.

And I'm glad that I didn't have any of my accounts hacked before I realized how important a password manager is and started using it.

If you're not already using a password manager, you need to get your hands on one.

And if you need to learn more about why it's important to use a password manager, watch this:


2. Alfred

This is a massive replacement (and improvement) to the basic Spotlight Search in macOS, and it has a lot of bells and whistles. Although I don't really use most of them.

That said, here are two of the main features that I use most frequently:

1. Use keywords for web searches

For instance, say I want to Google something instead of opening a browser window and typing something in the search bar…

… with Alfred, I can type the search phrase and it will automatically open a new window with the search results:

(No, don't Google that.)

But you can also ask Alfred to perform other web searches by adding a keyword before the search phrase.

Here is a list of keywords you can use for searches:

2. Search and open 1Password bookmarks

his is similar to web searches, but instead of manually going to a website and then pressing sign in, I can ask Alfred to search and bring me directly to the login page by adding the keyword “1p”:

There is a lot more you can do with Alfred, and if you want to learn more, I recommend watching this video:


3. Bartender

This is a must-have app if your MacBook is your primary device or your external monitor isn't a big-ass one.

It allows you to customize which items on your menu bar to hide behind the three dots. And whenever you need them, you can hover your mouse over to the menu bar or click the three dots to show them:


4. Canary Mail

I've used a few email apps in the past and I'd say Canary Mail is by far my favorite one.

It removes the limitations of the Mail app that comes with macOS and has many other features.

Some of my favorite features are Read-Notifications and One-Click Unsubscribe.

The Read-Notifications feature is like your one on WhatsApp, but better. It notifies you when the recipient reads your email.

Now if someone intentionally ignores your emails, you'll know it.

Have you ever accidentally subscribed to an email list, and before long, your inbox is full of spam and promotional emails?

Worse still, there's no unsubscribe button at the bottom of their emails.

That's when One-Click Unsubscribe comes into play.

Though it doesn't work every single time, most of the time, if you click the Unsubscribe button, it'll bring you straight to the unsubscribe page of the email list.


5. CleanMyMac

If I had to pick one thing I don't like about macOS, it has to be that there's no way to completely (and properly) uninstall apps that aren't in the App Store.

If you followed Apple's guide and dragged the app to the Trash, it only ostensibly removes the app without completely removing all the files associated with it.

I know, it sounds ridiculous to pay for an app to remove apps on your computer. But there are other amazing features with CleanMyMac X.

It allows you to check your hard drive space, view the current CPU usage, see how much trash you have and empty it, check your network speed…

… and more importantly, check your RAM usage and one-click free it up. Plus, it has a real-time malware monitor.

But that's not all. If you open the main app, you'll see a bunch of features:

  • Clean your system junk for maximum performance
  • Remove local copies of email downloads
  • Malware removal
  • Remove your browsing history and online activities
  • And a lot more.

The bottom line?

If you use macOS, you should have CleanMyMac installed.


6. CleanShot

This is like the macOS built-in screenshot tool but on steroids. I gave it a try and could never go back.

It has a ton of features, but here are the ones that I use most frequently:

  • Capture an area
  • Capture fullscreen
  • Capture individual app or browser window
  • Scroll capture
  • Capture self-timer screenshot
  • Capture non-selectable text from an image or video
  • Screen recording
  • Cloud feature

Even if you only use the screenshot tool, you'll still find it super useful because of the built-in editor that allows you to edit your screenshot or add annotations.

The best part?

After you've done editing, you can click the cloud icon on the bottom right to upload it to CleanShot Cloud and it'll provide you with a link to share with others.

My next favorite feature is the Scrolling Capture. You can define and capture a screen area as you scroll through it.

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There are a lot more features that I can't list out one by one here. You can explore all of the features if you want.


7. Downie

This is the ultimate media downloader for macOS. You can pretty much download all types of media files on the internet except for DRM-protected content like Apple Music and Netflix.

My favorite use case is, of course, downloading videos. Just click the Downie browser extension (installation guide here) and it'll add the video to the download queue:

And from there, you have a few postprocessing options. You can convert it into MP4, extract audio-only, or send it to Permute (another app from the same developer) for other advanced conversions.

If the browser extension doesn't work, you can open the User-Guided Extraction to “force” the download.

With Downie open, press ⌘E to open the User-Guided Extraction window:

Then paste the website URL with the video you want to download to the address bar. And all the downloadable videos will appear in the sidebar:

But the extra feature I want to highlight here is the ability to view all the downloadable images on the URL and download them.

If any downloadable images are on the URL, you'll see a red number counter on the top bar. And if you click it, it will show all the images available for download.

A great feature is that it also shows the resolution of those images, making it easier to identify the images that you want to download:

Just click the download icon, and it'll appear in the download window.


8. Forklift

Forklift is a dual-pane file manager that comes with a lot of advanced features. And since it also has a Preview feature, you can probably replace the macOS Finder with it if you want.

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But I mainly use it as an FTP client — to transfer files between a computer and a website server. Its dual-pane UI allows me to see what items I have on both panes and easily sync between them.

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Another great use case is when you need to rename multiple files simultaneously. It allows you to select multiple files and change those filenames at once.

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9. iStat Menus

If my memory serves me right, I started using iStat Menus to monitor my MacBook's CPU and RAM usage in 2015.

I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing, but it satiates my desire to be a control freak. And I'm so used to it now that I have it installed on all of my Macs.

Upon clicking the main window, you can view the CPU usage, the RAM usage, the hard drive capacity, network speed, and some information about the sensors:

If you hover over to the CPU section, it shows you more details like the CPU temperature, CPU processes, GPU usage, FPS of the display, etc.

The same applies to other sections like Memory, Hard Drive, Network, and Sensors — hover your mouse over and you'll be able to view all the details.


10. Karabiner Elements

This is an advanced keyboard customizer for macOS, specifically for custom keyboards.

If you typically use your MacBook in clamshell mode and connect it to an external monitor, unless you're a big fan of Apple's super low-profile keyboard (I was 🙃), chances are you're using a custom keyboard.

With Karabiner-Elements, you can customize the keys to whatever you want, as long as the key is detected by it.

You can always use complex modifications if simple modifications don't meet your needs. It might require more technical effort, though.

But a great thing about it is that you can import a complex modification rule from the community if anyone has done what you want to do and is willing to share it with others.


11. Ludwig

As a non-native, I constantly feel insecure about English, especially when publishing my writing to the public.

I discovered Ludwig about two years ago, and it has been one of my favorite tools for writing.

For starters, it has a dictionary feature. If you type in an English word, it'll show you the definition.

But it also has a translation and an idiom dictionary features built-in. If you enter a foreign phrase “provare per credere,” it'll show you all of these:

The features that impress me the most are the following:

1. Compare the frequency of two sentences

If you type in “best regards VS sincerely yours,” it'll show you how frequently each phrase is used:

And show you examples from reliable English sources:

2. Discover the missing word

Say you want to use a phrase but are uncertain about a word in that phrase, you can use Ludwig for inspiration. I can't begin to tell you how much this feature has helped me.

For example, if you type in “find the * word,” Ludwig will show you this:

Just replace the missing word with an asterisk (*) and you'll be fed with ideas and inspiration.

3. Paraphrase your sentence

Not sure if that's the right word to use in a sentence? Just add an underscore before that word and you'll see the frequency comparisons in percentages.

For example, if you type in “the _aim of this paper,” Ludwig will show you this:

And you can click on each variation to view examples.

4. Compare the frequency of words

This feature allows you to compare which of the two words is more frequently used. For example, if you type in “[have take] a shower,” it will show you this:

Along with examples, of course.

5. Order a group of words

This is useful if you're unsure about the correct order of a group of words. For example, if you type in “{right order the in},” it'll show you which variation is most frequently used.

Again, along with examples.

It's worth noting that all those percentage comparisons are only shown in the web version. They don't appear on the Mac desktop app for some reason.

So if you need to check frequency comparisons of any words or phrases, be sure to use the web version on the official website.


12. Luminar AI

I discovered this AI-powered image editing app not long ago, so I don't have much experience with it.

But basically, how it works is that it uses artificial intelligence to analyze your images, suggest templates that you might like, and apply your chosen template to your images to achieve a unified style.

I mainly use it to edit video thumbnails since I unsubscribed from Adobe a while ago. I'm unsure how good it is compared to Adobe Lightroom, but Luminar AI has worked fine for me.

Here are some before-after images from Luminar's website:

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And if you want to learn more, check out their official website.


13. Lunar

Lunar is a free tool for brightness control on external monitors. If you use your MacBook in clamshell mode and connect it to an external monitor, you're going to need this app.

The app is straightforward and easy to use. I especially love that you can customize the minimum/maximum brightness and contrast to your desired level.

And it now officially supports M1 Macs.


14. Mosaic

Mosaic is a tool that allows you to resize and reposition windows on your Mac with a simple drag & drop.

It allows you to create custom layouts according to your specific needs. For instance, I created layouts that work both on my MacBook and my external monitor.

You can choose to trigger the layouts simply by dragging the window, dragging the window to the top of the screen, or dragging the window and holding the Option key.

One downside of this app is that it doesn't sync with iCloud. So if you don't want to lose your custom layouts every time the app or your Mac malfunctions, be sure to manually make a backup of the app preference to your computer.


15. One Switch

Though far from perfect, One Switch is a convenient tool that gathers all the useful switches you'd typically use in one place.

The one feature that keeps me from uninstalling this app is the Keep Awake feature. It allows me to one-click and keep the machine awake indefinitely.

Other relatively useful features are toggles for Dark Mode, Do Not Disturb, Night Shift, Show Hidden Files, and Change Screen Resolution.

Regarding the Headphones Connect feature, I have another app further down the list that does it better.


16. Parcel

I like keeping track of my online shopping deliveries. And Parcel has done a great job so far.

Nothing fancy, it does what it promises — parcel tracking with push notifications. But unlike other “free” tracking apps with only a mobile version, Parcel pushes out notifications to iOS and Mac devices if you're on a premium subscription.

Maybe it's just me, but I think another reason to pay for a tracking app is to get rid of those annoying banner ads.

That said, there are some features that I want to highlight here:

1. One-click track on the website

If you suspect that the app is not getting the latest tracking updates, you can click the three-dot icon of delivery and click “Track on Website.” The app will redirect you to the official tracking page.

2. Find on map

This feature lets you view the shipping routes on an interactive map. Not a must, but definitely good to have.

3. Contact customer service

If your parcel takes too long to deliver, you might want to contact the shipping courier to find out what's happening.

Clicking this will prompt a window to call customer service. Pretty neat.

4. Day counter

It has an optional day counter next to a delivery that tells you how many days till delivery or after postage as per your preference.


17. Paste

Paste is a tool that lets you save everything you've copied in one place and organized way.

Here are some feature highlights that I personally like the most:

1. Unlimited clipboard

It allows you to extend your clipboard capacity to unlimited so you can keep everything you've copied for as long as you want.

2. Create & organize pinboards

It allows you to create different pinboards (or categories) to store your items so you can access them easily.

And when you need it, use a shortcut you configured to bring it up and you can paste it anywhere.

This feature comes in handy when you need to search for something you copied a long time ago. And I'd say the search feature is pretty intelligent and intuitive.

A great feature of this app is that it supports iCloud sync. So you don't have to worry about losing anything in your clipboard.

Not to mention its iOS app gives you access to your clipboard, though I find the iOS app a little clunky and not always syncing the latest changes.

I find myself using this app much more than any other app on this list. So if there's an app that can make the title of this post less clickbaity, it's Paste.


18. PDFpen

Like other premium PDF tools, PDFpen has many features… that I don't really use.

When it comes to a PDF tool, the features I'm looking for (for the most part) are the ability to add & delete pages, fill & sign, encrypt & decrypt.

PDFpen can get those jobs done… imperfectly… because this app has no direct way to decrypt a PDF.

I know you can use the default Mac Preview app to export a PDF as a new PDF and the password will be removed, but that will also remove all the links in that PDF, which is not ideal.

I haven't found a solution yet, and I know that the best PDF editing app is Adobe Acrobat Pro. But my current usage is not demanding enough to convince me to get the hefty subscription. So that's that.

The bottom line?

It's a great tool, and I highly recommend it if you, like me, are unwilling to pay for an Adobe subscription.


19. Permute

Permute provides a super-fast way to convert your media files to a different format. And when I say fast, it's really fast.

I dragged a 4-minute 1080p video to Permute to convert. See how fast it did the conversion:

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The best way to use it?

Bulk conversion.

Just gather all your files in one place and add them all to Permute then click convert. And boom, it's done.

One thing though:

Using Permute to convert your media files won't compress the size. It's plainly for format conversion purposes. If you need to compress the file size, check out ShortPixel.


20. PixelSnap

This is a great tool to measure anything on your screen if you do design work.

Simply press the keyboard shortcut you configured to trigger the app and point your mouse to the area you want to measure and you'll get the dimension.

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What if you want to measure object dimensions? You've got it:

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Remember the fantastic screenshot tool mentioned above — CleanShot?

It's from the same developer as PixelSnap, so if you have both apps installed, they'll integrate well with each other and allow you to take more precise screenshots.

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Check out the official website if you want to explore the full features.


21. PhotoBulk

As the name suggests, PhotoBulk is an app that allows you to edit images in bulk.

Things you can do with it include adding a watermark, resizing, optimizing, converting, adding metadata, and renaming. All in bulk, of course.

But the features I typically use are resizing and renaming, so I can't comment on the rest of the features.


22. Short Menu

A simple and effective URL shortening tool.

Whenever you copy something, trigger this app will shorten the link from your clipboard.

For instance, I copy a long URL from Short Menu's website:

https://shortmenu.com/support/custom-services/

After shortening it with Short Menu, it became this:

https://v.gd/Bvl2EI

This is especially helpful if you need to send people links of sorts all the time.

And if you already have accounts with other link-shortening tools, you can connect those accounts to Short Menu. Here are the supported ones:


23. Sip

If you do design work even just once in a blue moon, there'll be times when you need to grab a color code from an image, a video, or anything else.

That's when Sip comes into play. It's a universal color picker for your Mac.

Just use a keyboard shortcut to trigger the color picker and a simple click will copy the color code to your clipboard.

Another great feature is that it has an Editor where you can create your own color palettes if you use the same sets of colors often.

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There are other advanced features, but I don't think I'm in a good position to talk about them since I don't use them.


24. Step Two

If you use a password manager, then a two-factor authentication (2FA) app is a no-brainer.

I used to use Google Authenticator and it got the job done… kinda. The frustration lies in times when I change a new phone or have to reinstall the app, and I have to re-configure everything all over again.

That's one of the three reasons I chose Step Two — it allows iCloud synchronization. I no longer have to worry about losing my setups if shit happens to any of my devices.

Another reason is the clean and beautiful UI. I'm a highly visual person and I appreciate everything visually appealing.


25. TextSniper

Previously, I talked about how CleanShot allows you to capture non-selectable text from an image or a video.

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TextSniper does it better. A little bit.

It has a text-to-speech feature whereby your Mac can read the text you capture from an image.

It is a QR code & barcode reader. Capture a QR code or barcode on your screen and it will convert it to text for you. I'm not sure how that's useful, but it is what it is.

The last one is probably my favorite — you can take a photo with your iPhone and TextSniper will capture the text from that image.

It even detects all your Apple devices with a camera signed in with the same Apple ID and lets you choose which device to take a photo with.


26. ToothFairy

This app creates shortcuts on your macOS menu bar to let you one-click connect and disconnect to your Bluetooth devices.

Here's what you'll see when you open ToothFairy:

1. Bluetooth devices you've added to ToothFairy

You can connect to these devices by clicking the icons on your menu bar.

2. Adding or removing devices from ToothFairy

Clicking the + icon will allow you to add your currently connected Bluetooth devices to ToothFairy.

3. Picking an icon

After adding a device to ToothFairy, you can pick an icon to represent that device on your menu bar.

4. Recording a shortcut

Finally, you can record a keyboard shortcut to trigger the connection and disconnection to a device.


27. YoudaoDict

If you're a native English speaker, this app probably won't be helpful to you. But if you are a Chinese actively striving to improve your English, this is a great dictionary app.

This might be my preference, but learning new vocabulary using an English-Chinese dictionary is much easier.

Here are the reasons I like YoudaoDict:

1. It has a vast library of words, phrases, and idioms

There have been a few occasions where I couldn't find a word in YoudaoDict, usually because those are relatively obscure words. If that happens, I'd use Google Search as a backup and see what I can find online.

Generally speaking, YoudaoDict works well enough for my daily learning.

2. It gives you comprehensive details

If I search for the word “philosophical,” it shows me all this information:

a. A short definition along with BrE and AmE pronunciations.
b. Definitions from Oxford English Dictionary, Webster's Dictionary, and Collins English Dictionary.
c. Derivatives of the word
d. Frequently used short phrases for the word
e. Other phrases, synonyms, and etymology.
f. Example sentences along with readings.
g. Definition from Wikipedia

3. It provides you with a vocabulary book

When you encounter a new word and you want to save it, you can click the star icon and it will be saved to your personal vocabulary book.

The best part?

You can create an account and have all your vocabulary synced across devices.

The only shortcoming I've found with this app is that it doesn't allow you to search through your vocabulary book.

I have over 1,000 words in there and every time I want to find a word to use in my writing, I have to manually go through those words.

Which is insane.

Wrapping Up

So there you have it — the 27 best Mac apps that I (kinda) can't live without. I hope you got something out of it.

Now it's your turn:

Which app from this list are you already using? Or which one piques your interest to find out more?

Either way, let me know in the comments section below.

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