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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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2021 Favorites: Mac Apps

As we reach the end of the year, it’s time for us to share some of the stuff that we liked this year. We’ll start with a category that is surprisingly robust: Mac apps. Some of these are new, and others are old favorites that got nice updates in recent months.

Mimestream

Mimestream

After a decade-plus of using Gmail through the Mac-amplified interface of Mailplane, I had to find a replacement after that app was discontinued. My dissatisfaction with Apple Mail’s slow operation and unreliable search was what drove me to Mailplane to begin with, and I wasn’t willing to go back there. Fortunately, I didn’t have to. Neil Jhaveri’s Mimestream is an Apple Mail-style client for Gmail. Its search is proper Gmail search, fast and reliable. And it supports Mac interface conventions. I’ve switched to Mimestream and couldn’t be happier about it. The app is free during the beta period; I have no idea what it’ll cost when it goes final, but whatever it is, it’ll be worth it.—Jason Snell

Bartender 4

I’m not quite sure why I avoided Bartender for so long, but this year the overwhelming number of menu bar icons finally got to me, and I wholeheartedly embraced the $15 menu bar management utility. The latest version added the ability to hover over your menu bar to see your hidden icons, as well as a handy Quick Search to access those widgets via the keyboard, and triggers that make icons show up when something relevant happens. Now I’ve got just the information I need, without any clutter.—Dan Moren

HomeControl Menu

HomeControl Menu

One of my favorite discoveries of this year is the $10 HomeControl Menu for HomeKit, which provides quick access to HomeKit devices from the Mac menu bar—and, via a clever set of automation URLs, quick access to HomeKit from Shortcuts, scripts, and macropads like Stream Deck and Loupedeck.—J.S.

Hazel

Hazel

While I used to be a devotee of Hazel, Noodlesoft’s folder automation tool, I’d fallen out of using it in the last few years. But this year, I jumped back in when I realized I actually had a good use for it: automatically transferring my hefty podcast files archived to my NAS. Version 5 of the $42 utility has added a schmancy new interface, support for lists and tables, and more. Since then, I’ve been wondering what other tasks it might be able to help me with—maybe it’s time to finally get that Downloads folder sorted.—D.M.

Broadcasts

Broadcasts

I frequently listen to live streams of podcasts from Relay FM, The Incomparable, and Accidental Tech Podcast. My app of choice on Mac, iOS, and watchOS is Broadcasts. It’s free for a few stations and a $6 in-app purchase to unlock all functionality. I’ve created bookmarks for my favorite podcasts and now it’s easy to tune them in live at my desk, in the shower, or when I’m running. (Broadcast’s presets sync across all devices via iCloud.)—J.S.

SwiftBar

SwiftBar

A few years ago my go-to utility for putting glanceable information in my menu bar, BitBar, was abandoned by its developer. (It has since been revived as xBar.) Fortunately, Alex Mazanov stepped up a year ago and created SwiftBar, which was a drop-in replacement and has added some fun additional features over the last year. Both Dan and I have written some new plug-ins for SwiftBar this year, joining some old standbys.—J.S.

Shortcuts

I have a million complaints about Apple’s new Shortcuts app for iOS. I said it was “like something from another solar system—or maybe operating system,” and the app is weird. But after begging for Shortcuts on the Mac, I have to admit that I am already integrating it into my Mac life on a regular basis. Things are still shaky—Apple would’ve done well to call it a beta—but they’re improving rapidly, and there are workarounds for many of the biggest issues. The Shortcuts app needs a lot of work, but I can’t deny its power and utility.—J.S.

Safari Keyword Search

Safari Keyword Search

The improvements Apple brought to its Safari Extension framework this year opened some big doors in terms of functionality, most notably reviving my favorite extension, Arne Martin Aurlien’s Safari Keyword Search. Not only back from the dead, it was revised to version 2.0, which also made the jump to iOS and iPadOS for the first time. I love being able to search a variety of sites right from the Safari address bar, from IMDb to Wikipedia to, yep, Six Colors. Also, it’s free, so you’ve got nothing to lose in trying it out. You might just love it as much as I do.—D.M.

BBEdit 14’s Language Server Protocol

In July, venerable Mac text utility BBEdit ($50) was updated to version 14, which features support for the Language Server Protocol. Coincidentally, I’ve spent a lot of time this year learning to write scripts in Python. BBEdit has turned into an amazing home for that work, with the Jedi language server providing me with live error checking and autocompletion as I work. Yet another reason for me to love BBEdit.—J.S.

Calibre

With my switch to Kobo e-readers earlier this year, I’ve needed to convert some books I bought on the Kindle store to make them usable on the Kobo. That’s just one of the many jobs the free, open-source utility Calibre can do. I’ve also amassed a large collection of downloaded ebooks over the years; Calibre provides an iTunes-like library for them, and lets me convert and copy them to my e-reader of choice with a couple of clicks. No, it’s not the most Mac-friendly app ever—it’s cross-platform open-source software, and looks the part—but I can’t argue with the price or with the results.—J.S.

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