10 Feb. 2022
As the new year is still fresh, I have plenty of “new beginnings” motivations left when it comes to reading, writing, and my overall use of technology. These days, I am trying to find better ways to use the software I already have, while I keep looking for new apps to potentially improve different parts of my digital life.
I would call this search for features or satisfying software a true passion of mine. In this process, I’ve identified a few gems, found new appreciation for some of my favourites, and got rid of a few that were just not good enough.
Of course, what makes this quest interesting is maintaining the number of third-party apps installed to a minimum. This constraint means that for every thing that I want to do, I will download and install a new app only if the system apps can’t do it, or if the third-party app/service does it dramatically better. Therefore, some of the apps listed below are currently not installed on my machines, but it doesn’t prevent me to like and recommend them.
Another constraint: I always try to use native apps. No Electron bullshit.
Instead of listing all the apps and tools that I use, like I seem to do on a regular basis, I’ll only list the third-party ones that I currently use on my Mac and on my iPhone, and/or really like.
Obviously Blot: I’ve written about it before, it is the best blog platform for me. Blot is fast, customisable, and allows me to use my text editor of choice to publish new posts, without needing a browser window. As an alternative, I recommend Micro.blog, and I’d also give Bear a shot.
Same story here: if you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know that I use Drafts. Drafts, to me, is the perfect app. It does everything I want, it does it very well, it is fast, and very powerful if you know what you want to do. The alternatives I recommend — if you’re into Markdown editors — are iA Writer, and, in a different style, FS Notes.1
When it comes to RSS readers, NetNewsWire is very hard to beat: it is free, light, works perfectly, and I can use iCloud to sync my feeds. Both the iOS and MacOS versions are fantastic.2 If you prefer to follow your RSS feeds on the web and have more features, Feedbin is the RSS service I recommend: Even if it costs a few euros per month, the quality of the web app and the ad-free experience make it worth a try.
To publish on Blot, I have to sync text files with Dropbox. Since the Mac Dropbox app sucks, I recommend the native third-party app Maestral. Maestral doesn’t have all the features of Dropbox, but it is reliable, very light, and free, which is more than enough if you plan to use it just to sync folders. Transmit, in a different style, is very well made, also works with Dropbox, and deserves your consideration if you also work with servers.
Tired of seeing the terrible trending topics all the time, I’ve recently stopped using the Twitter website. I’ve tried the Safari extension Tweaks for Twitter to hide them, and it works, but Tweetbot is even a better solution: It is really good for reading, publishing, and liking tweets, you know, Twitter things. I hope the Mac app is updated soon (à la Tweetbot for iOS app) so that things like polls can be displayed properly.3
How bad is Safari’s Reading List? This topic would deserve its own post, but seriously, since it was launched more than 10 years ago, Reading List has apparently gained zero new feature, except for offline reading. Reading List can’t even be configured to automatically display saved articles in Reader mode, like you can already do for specific websites. At this point, Reading List is nothing more than a fancy bookmark folder. I really hope Apple will add the minimum requirements for a Read later app in 2022, like reading time, favourites, archives, a custom reader mode experience, etc. Until then, Instapaper, Pocket and Matter are all great options. I’m using Matter nowadays, it looks great and gets better with every update, while the other two seem to be stuck in 2017.
I could — and maybe should — have put text editors and code editors in the same “editors” category. But while you can use code editors to write text, the opposite, writing code with a text editor, is not practical. Here, the apps BBEdit and Nova are very, very powerful, and feature-rich. They are a bit too much for me to edit 2 lines of CSS or HTML every now and then, so I don’t use them, but if you write code, buy either one of them, they are worth every cent.
When I want to change the white balance of a photo, or adjust the focus manually, Halide is my go-to app. Halide also offers a very smart interface, along with useful RAW options. They added a special macro mode recently, which is not perfect but adds yet another reason to consider this excellent app, especially if you have the latest generation of iPhone.
In 2022, sadly, browsing the web without a content blocker is just too painful. I have been using Wipr for the past couple of years, and I am more than satisfied with it: Wipr doesn’t break too many websites, removes most annoyances, and is regularly updated. Beware though: once you start using a content blocker, there is no going back.
Last but not least: todo lists. Things, by Cultured Code, is the app that inspired me to write this blog post and is simply one the best app I’ve tried. I was so impressed with Things that it made me regret not having a Mac for work, as this is where I’d love to use this app and where it would shine. For my personal life Reminders is enough for me which means that sadly, I am not a Things users, but I have never been so tempted to break my default-apps-first rule.
I could have mentioned other apps in this list, like Piezo, Pastebot, Forza Football, but these are just apps I like using, not apps I would necessarily recommend, since I didn’t really investigate the alternatives, and they seem more niche too. Also, I did not include the default apps I like and use, like Keychain or Mail.
So, to summarise:
Hopefully this list can help some of you find great apps, or inspire you to write a similar post: I’m always very curious to see what apps others currently use and why, so if you do, let me know via email or Twitter.
On Windows, I am using Notable: it is hard to find a text editor that is not Electron-based on Windows; I use a Windows PC for work, and the app situation is quite abysmal compared to the Mac, whatever you think of the situation of the Mac App Store and the invasion of Electron apps.↩︎
As a new year resolution, I’ve removed it from my phone: if I have time to read on my phone, I force myself to catch up with my read-later list, so I only use NetNewsWire on my Mac now.↩︎
As a new year resolution, I’ve removed it from my phone too: same story than NetNewWire.↩︎