Article: Top Mac App Picks of 2013

by on December 24, 2013

There are a lot of apps available for the Mac, especially with the maturation of the Mac App Store. Although iOS seems to get most of the attention, I thought it would be nice to take a look at some of my favorite apps available for Mac OS X. I can’t say this idea is entirely original, as it is a combination of some very old articles I did for this site and others and Federico Viticci’s list on MacStories.

Although this list won’t include items for everyone (some apps have very specific, narrow uses), it might offer some new tools to check out in 2014. Many have iOS counterparts or offer some additional value to iOS users.

MacBook Pro

ReadKit • $6.99

We saw Google shut down its Reader service this year, and with it, the RSS world was thrown into a slight state of confusion. There are now a lot of popular choices, both free and paid, and ReadKit connects to a lot of them. It originally started as a desktop client for Pocket and Instapaper, but now fulfills most RSS duties. Mix in a nice interface, low price, and constant improvements, and there’s no surprise that it’s a favorite of mine. For what it’s worth, I run my own Fever server with it, but it also works with Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, Pinboard, Delicious, Feedly, NewsBlur, Feed Wrangler, Feedbin, or can be a standalone non-synchronizing RSS client. As of this writing, it’s on sale for $2.99.

Tweetbot • $19.99

Although I do use Twitter for a lot of social loafing, I do find it to be a great tool for staying current on the tech world and posting things that pair nicely with this site. Although there are a few other good alternatives, Tweetbot is by far the best and most complete Twitter client for OS X. If you use Tweetbot on iOS, the sync works quite well and the interface is consistent, but appropriate across numerous devices (although iOS 7 has changed that for the iPhone version just a bit). It might seem a bit expensive for those used to paying for iOS apps, but for something that is almost always open on my Mac, I appreciate the craftsmanship and support that Tapbots has put into Tweetbot.

Clear • $9.99

I love the idea of to-do lists, but I hate the constraints of many, including due dates, reminders, and prioritizing. I was never disciplined enough to always fill out everything, or I’d go overboard and then redo my planning scheme. Either way, I had tried Clear for iOS and really enjoyed its lack of structure and eventually picked up the Mac version. Although it works much like the iOS version, it does allow the display of multiple lists on the screen at once. It also seems that some of the early sync issues that were a result from iCloud have been worked out.

Fantastical • $19.99

I liked the now-defunct CalendarClock back in 2004 and Fantastical is an excellent spiritual successor. Although not in the Mac App Store, Flexibits sells it directly from their site in a relatively painless process. This piece of software puts an icon in your menu bar that can show the current date. Clicking it brings up a monthly calendar and a list of upcoming events from local OS X calendars, iCloud, Outlook, Yahoo Calendar, Google Calendar, or BusyCal. The biggest feature is that there is a text entry box at the top for what the company calls a natural language engine. You can enter in information about an event in plain English and it picks out key words to create an event. On Macs capable of dictation, you can even fill in events with your voice. There’s a free trial available and it’s on sale for $9.99 from Flexibits directly or the Mac App Store.

Pixelmator • $29.99

Adobe Photoshop can do just about anything you’d want from a graphics editor—except it’s bloated and expensive. Pixemator is $30 (sometimes on sale as low as $15), and does about 85% of what Photoshop can do. It also adds some vector shapes so it’s even coming into Illustrator’s territory. Best of all, it’s built from the ground up to be an OS X native app and takes advantage of a bunch of Apple-developed tools and resources. Most of the graphics on this site have been done with Pixelmator.

iA Writer • $9.99

iA Writer is an old favorite of mine, a text editor designed simply to offer distraction-free writing with an uncluttered interface. Utilizing Dropbox and iCloud to keep copies of your documents available, it also can handle local files and Markdown. For these reasons and its low price, I find it to be a great tool for creating posts for this site or even jotting down notes. The product has become so successful that iA Writer Pro has been introduced to help facilitate the entire writing process.

Coda 2$99 $75

Besides writing and running SchwarzTech, I do a lot of other random web things—some of it is consulting, posting updates, or overhauling sites. I took the plunge and picked up Coda 2 by Panic and instantly found that I liked its workflow much better than the combination of tools I was using before. In many ways, it can replace Dreamweaver, much like Pixelmator can replace Photoshop. The only difference is that it’s focused solely on file management, code, and a beautiful, clean interface. It pairs nicely with Diet Coda on the iPad, and includes a full reference for a lot of web-related programming tools. Although you can purchase it on the Mac App Store, you can also download a copy to demo before you decide to commit the $99 (although it has been perpetually on sale for $75 for awhile).

Instacast • $19.99

I think that Apple has made great strides with its Podcast app, especially in the most recent iteration, but I still don’t like how they’re handled on the desktop. I have been a longtime user of Instacast on iOS, and Vemedio has brought a version over to the Mac. The interface feels a bit like the iPad one mixed with a three-pane view common on Mail and many RSS readers. All of the expected settings are there and it’s a joy to have your playback positioned synchronized across all devices. There are a few other options, but Instacast feels the most Mac-like. Like Coda 2, it’s available in the Mac App Store or direct from Vemedio as a serial-unlockable demo.

Printopia • $19.95

In case you haven’t noticed, the theme of this article has been a lot of iOS influence on OS X and vice versa. Besides a lot of apps mentioned here having a mobile counterpart, there are a few other tools for your Mac that will make living with an iOS device even easier. Printopia is one of these tools—it creates an AirPrint server on your Mac, so you can use any printer with an iOS device. Not only does this keep you from having to buy an AirPrint-capable printer, but it also allows you to AirPrint in environments like some corporate networks. There’s also an option to print to a Dropbox account on the Mac.

AirServer • $14.99

In the spirit of Printopia, AirServer turns your Mac into an AirPlay receiver for both audio and video. This can be handy for demonstrating features in iOS for a presentation, utilizing an iMac or large display for movies, or playing audio through your computer’s speakers. Setup is fairly easy and there are a lot of options. The newest version was just released and added support for recording and playback controls using multimedia keys from your Mac’s keyboard.

Meteorologist • Free

While writing this article, I rediscovered an old favorite, Meteorologist, an app that puts the current temperature and weather conditions in your menu bar. It’s free, quite customizable, and best of all, works again (it was mostly abandoned in the mid-2000s). The only downside is that it relies on scraping information from, so it could break at any time, and is limited to the United States. Maybe it’s my nostalgia, but despite these limitations, is still worth checking out.


These are just some of my favorites that have found their way on my Mac in 2013 and have become invaluable tools. While most are available from the Mac App Store, a number are also available directly from the developers, and even offer a trial before you commit. Because of this, you can really understand how these will fit into your workflow. Many also have much cheaper iOS counterparts that you can try out first and then decide if you even need them on your Mac. Either way, any of these will be great gifts for yourself or someone else this holiday season.

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