Happy New Year’s Eve! As has been my tradition for almost a decade now (since 2011!), I’ve compiled some of my favorite apps and things for the last year. Not a complete list, of course — I like a lot of things — but a good overview. Enjoy!

Side note: I apologize for the lack of posts this last month. A combination of being (thankfully) stable with my bipolar (my manic episodes are great for blogging…) and being pretty sure my ADHD meds aren’t working anymore has led to me mostly just being able to do what’s absolutely required without a lot of room for creative pursuits. Hopefully I’ll turn a corner on all that soon. Thanks for bearing with me!

Anyway, onward!

Mac Apps

A good number of these apps are available via a Setapp subscription, so my first pick is going to be Setapp. For a low monthly price you get access to hundreds of high quality apps. Use my special link and I’ll get a little bonus when you sign up. If an app I mention is available on Setapp, I’ll note that in the description.

Presented in (mostly) alphabetical order…

Affinity Designer / Affinity Photo
These apps have 100% replaced Adobe apps for me (Photoshop, Illustrator, respectively). Honestly, you couldn’t ask for more complete photo/illustration tools, and the price is amazing for what you get.
BarRemote
I previously recommended NepTunes for this kind of thing, but since I almost exclusively use Spotify when listening on my Mac, BarRemote has been my menu bar music controller of choice. Spotify already scrobbles to Last.fm, and I haven’t had space on my desktop for album artwork lately, so having a more compact controller in my menu bar is ideal.
Bartender
Bartender is the ultimate app for managing the macOS menu bar. Hide menu items you don’t need while maintaining access to them when they are. It even has the ability to show items for a period of time when they change, so menu items that notify you of things can be temporarily visible. The Big Sur-only beta of version 4 is amazing, too. Available via Setapp.
BetterTouchTool
This app lets you do amazing things with your trackpad, keyboard, and even your Touch bar on MacBooks. If you want to customize your input devices, this is the ultimate app. Available via Setapp.
Curio
Curio 14 came out this year. This is still the most flexible app for brainstorming, reference collection, rich note taking, and project management. See the release notes for all the latest stuff.
Dash
Now on Setapp, Dash is instant access to the docs for just about any programming language, as well as cheat sheets for things like regular expressions and git commands. This year saw some big interface changes and usability improvements.
Default Folder X
Also recently added to Setapp, Default Folder X makes Big Sur’s save dialogs bearable for me.
Descript
I was turned on to Descript by Merlin Mann last time he was on Systematic. It’s a transcription app that lets you edit audio and video just by editing the text. It has multitrack editing and compressor and other effects built in, so it can be an entire podcast editing studio. But the ability to search for text and edit the audio is the key feature that makes it a killer app. It also makes removing dead air and filler words a one-click process.
Fantastical
Great updates to the best calendar app on Mac and iOS this year.
Firefox
Other than browser testing, I’ve completely switched to Firefox. I have no regrets. Decent iOS app, too.
Forklift
I still use Finder for most basic file management, but if I’m doing anything that needs dual panes or remote servers, Forklift is fast and flawless. And it’s on Setapp.
Hazel
Hazel 5 came out this year. A major change to UI and new features for this app that watches your folders and files and takes advanced options based on an array of criteria. Automatic file management at its finest. See the release notes for the latest.
Hook
I can’t remember for sure if Hook was first released in 2020, but it’s become an essential workflow tool for me. It allows you to create deep links between all kinds of documents, urls, even things like todo items in your task manager. I also built a CLI for it this year.
HoudahSpot
If you’re a Mac power user, you use Spotlight in some form or another. And if you’ve relied on Spotlight for long enough, you’ve hit its limits. HoudahSpot takes search further, and I can’t recall a time that it hasn’t allowed me to find the files I need, even when Spotlight failed me. It’s a complete replacement for Spotlight, and a far more capable way to search your files.
iThoughtsX
iThoughts remains my mind mapping software of choice on both Mac and iOS. If you know how much I love mind maps, that should say something. I’ve tried everything but I haven’t found anything that covers all the bases as well as iThoughts. Available on Setapp.
Honorable mention to MindNode (also on Setapp), they’ve added a lot of cool stuff lately and it’s definitely a very elegant app.
Kaleidoscope
No major updates (yet), but this year my favorite diff tool was acquired by Letter Opener GmbH, which hopefully means a longer life for this awesome tool. Diff files, folders, and even images with a gorgeous interface and great merge tools.
MailMate
MailMate is still my favorite email solution on Mac. Some other big name power users have bought into it lately, too, so I feel justified in my choice. I recommend getting on the beta build track.
Paprika Recipe Manager
For storing recipes, syncing shopping lists, and actually getting down to cooking, I still haven’t found anything better than Paprika. My partner and I both use it on Mac and iOS, keeping our recipes and shopping lists in sync. I love being able to turn a recipe into a grocery list with a couple of clicks.
Rogue Amoeba Apps
I’ve moved all of my podcast recording from Ecamm Call Recorder to Audio Hijack and will never look back. I’ve also found other uses for it, especially for recording output directly from apps.
I wrote about SoundSource back in February. I would seriously miss this if it stopped working. There are some concerns for those using Apple Silicon Macs (it’s still perfectly usable, it just takes way more effort than it should, thanks to Apple), but it’s updated for Big Sur and the current stable version is running flawlessly for me. Full control over audio output mapping, inline effects, and special features like volume boost and built-in, per-device EQ.
I took the plunge this year and started using Loopback, which lets you build custom composite audio devices with unlimited inputs, outputs, and monitoring devices. This has been great for hooking “soundboards” into my podcast recordings, setting up more complex monitoring configurations for Logic, and is a very powerful way to get more control over all of your various audio devices. Not cheap, but if you have a need for it it’s totally worth it.
TableFlip
No major updates to this little app, but I still love it. It allows you to edit MultiMarkdown tables with a spreadsheet interface, automatically detecting multiple tables in a document and updating the text every time you save.
TextExpander
Big updates to my absolute favorite Mac utility this year. A whole new configuration interface, better snippet search, and more. Full disclosure: I’m proud to have TextExpander as a regular sponsor of my blog and my podcasts. I greatly appreciate their support, but TextExpander is so great that I would talk about it whether they paid me or not.
TextSniper
I just discovered this app this year. It was pointed out to me when I complained about not being able to copy text out of Apple News. TextSniper is instant OCR for your screenshots, allowing you to just capture an area of your screen and automatically turning it into editable text in your clipboard, even when the text can’t be selected or copied.
Timing
All of my time tracking is done automatically with Timing these days. I still run a clock in Billings when I’m doing freelance work, but even then Timing offers me a far more granular look at where I spent my time.
Tower
I love Git. I love Tower for working with Git. And the stuff they’ve added this year (like universal ⌘Z undo) has only made this great app better. Disclosure: Tower has sponsored this blog, but like all my other sponsors, I chose them because I love and use their app.
Unite
If you want to make Single Site Browsers to turn your favorite websites into apps, Unite is top notch these days. A big release this year, and a ton of new features, including the ability to put a segment of a page in the Dock icon and have it automatically refresh. If you want a Chromium instance with full access to Chrome extensions, also check out Coherence X, both available on Setapp.
VirtualHostX
Tyler Hall’s solution to running multiple websites on your Mac for development has undergone major updates over the last couple of years. It now runs sites in virtual containers, and offers a ton of features. It can even be set as your default browser and offer you a choice of installed browsers whenever it’s called. Available on Setapp.
Also check out Tyler talking about VirtualHostX and his other apps on Systematic.
Workona
The Workona extension for Chrome was the last reason I hadn’t switched away. When it became available for Firefox this year, that was all it took for me to ditch Chrome. It allows you to create workspaces that automatically save their open tabs, and you can switch between unlimited tab sets as you work. It’s a lifesaver.

Just in case you ignored me before, I’ll say it one more time: you should get Setapp.

iOS Apps

Writing

1Writer
Still my top choice for writing and notetaking on my iPhone, and my companion for nvUltra notes. nvUltra will eventually be available on iOS, and I’m looking forward to that, but for now 1Writer is my favorite.
Drafts
When I’m not using 1Writer, I’m using Drafts for my quick notes. It gets a little scattered working between the two systems, but they serve different purposes and I love them both for different reasons. Hear a chat with Drafts Developer Greg Pierce on Systematic.
iThoughts iOS
Most of my longer pieces start out as mind maps, and editing those on the go is super handy. I also use MindMeister on iOS for collaborative mind mapping.

Games

Grindstone
I’ve been obsessed with Grindstone all year. Available on Apple Arcade, it’s a great puzzle game. Once you 3-star all the levels, there’s still a “Daily Grind” that will keep you coming back every day.
NYT Crossword
I never got into crosswords before, but got pretty obsessed this year. I especially love the “Midis” when I’m just waiting around for something.
Patterned
A surprisingly relaxing puzzle game.

Productivity

Spark
I love Spark as my email client. I have it set up to work great with my MailMate setup, which includes a big dose of SaneBox.
Reincubate Camo
A cool system for using your iPhone as a webcam, which is especially handy in a pandemic during which all the good webcams sold out everywhere.
Pushcut
A great solution for automation tasks that Shortcuts doesn’t cover.
Medisafe
I take several medications at different times of the day. This app gives me reminders and tracks what I’ve taken, including integration with my Apple Watch.

MultiMedia

Obscura
If you want to take your iPhone camera further, this is the app.
BIAS FX 2
Great guitar effects. This is my current “pedal” of choice.
Hey Metronome
Voice controlled metronome. That seems pretty self-explanatory.
Lively
Turn your Live Photos into animated GIFs.
GIF Toaster
A more in-depth tool for creating GIFs and videos from your camera roll. It can even do GIF collages, which can get visually crazy.

Brett’s Projects

Probably worth mentioning where some of my own development time has gone this year…

nvUltra
Those on the beta know that a lot of progress has been made on nvUltra this year. Everyone else is probably wondering what happened, since I stopped dropping regular updates. It’s very close to public release!
Marked 2
My Markdown preview app got a lot of development love this year, including a complete rewrite of the way it updates the preview, removing the flash and dynamically updating the content.
Bunch
My app for batch launching and system configuration using simple text files got a bizarre amount of love for an unpaid project. Thanks to everyone who’s donated this year.
Soundtrack
I don’t know why I spent so much time on it, but the results of my music-listening-tracker were pretty cool, in my opinion.
Hook CLI
A complete command line tool for Hook. This was updated very recently to work with the release of Hook 2.0.
SearchLink
Still the thing I’ve created that I use more than anything else. It’s a macOS Service that removes the need to switch to your browser to get a link for selected text. No major updates this year, but enough to keep it working like a charm! Works great with the URL Preview extensions.
howzit
A project for keeping track of all of the procedures for your various projects. Just ask it “howzit compile” or “howzit deploy” for a reminder of that process you set up a year or two ago and forgot about. It can even run the related tasks automatically.