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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

The Back Page: The third party

Software’s always been about parties. Who doesn’t like a good party? Chex mix, charades, and maybe a little bit of punch—a good time will be had by all.

But let’s talk about the two major parties—well, not those two parties—the first party and the third party. (What happened to the second party? No one knows: it has been lost to time, shrouded in mystery, and legend has it only a very few will ever be able to find the eternal party which never sleeps. And which, once found, you can never leave!)1

As I took a stroll through my MacBook’s Applications folder the other day, it got me thinking about first-party and third-party software. One of my favorite aspects of computing is discovering new software; that’s long been part of my job, too. But in recent years I’ve found that on the Mac the number of prominent new third-party apps has dwindled. I tend to use the same third-party apps I’ve used for years—1Password, Acorn, Reeder, Tweetbot, Dropbox—and many of them simply fill niches not occupied by Apple’s own apps.

It’s not that there aren’t third-party apps that do what Apple’s own apps do, and oftentimes better. Both BusyCal and Fantastical are excellent replacements for Apple’s own Calendar app, for example, but despite those options, I’ve kept on using Calendar. Likewise, some people like Mailplane or Airbox, but I’m deeply entrenched in Mail. Inertia is a powerful thing, especially when it comes to the tools you rely on to get things done everyday.

I don’t think I’m unusual in this regard, either. In general, it’s because Apple’s apps have two things going for them: first, they’re generally good enough. Second, they’re deeply integrated in the operating system. Unlike iOS, the Mac does let you change your default apps for certain tasks, but that doesn’t stop the close ties in some places: the Mac’s data detectors, for example, which let you quickly create calendar events or add to contacts from information discovered in emails.

But it’s also because much of what we do on our computers has shifted elsewhere. For example, when I recently replaced my dad’s computer, I discovered that virtually the only app he uses is Safari—he checks his mail, looks at sports scores, reads the news, and downloads recipes via the web. (It’s been an uphill battle to get him to store all his logins in 1Password.)

Then there’s mobile. The huge influx of smartphones and tablets, plus the commensurate skyrocketing of third-party development for that platform has made it the place to be. The Mac, meanwhile, has become a mature platform that can often seem a bit staid, especially since it’s been upstaged by its younger, flashier siblings.

That’s fine for long-established third-party tools that have essentially become part of the landscape, but a tougher proposition for a new breakout hit—with more than thirty years of history behind the Mac, it sometimes feels like there’s nothing new under the sun there.

Overall, the composition of my most used Mac apps hasn’t changed in a while. That’s no bad thing: it means I’m getting things done instead of constantly mucking around with new tools. But sometimes I long for a bit of the new and different, to see something I’ve never seen before—perhaps something that brings a little more life to the party.


  1. Yes, I know “you” are the second party. But how much software do you make? 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at dan@sixcolors.com. His latest novel, The Nova Incident, comes out in July and is available to pre-order now, so do it!]

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