From the Mac App Store and beyond: the 20 best apps for your MacBook Pro, iMac or MacBook Air

The best Mac photo editors, writing apps, productivity tools, and essential utilities

Your shiny new Mac has booted up and is sitting there, expecting something to happen. What next?

You could do something boring, like setting up email (yawn) or aimlessly surfing the internet in Safari until your eyes glaze over. Instead, get creative, be productive, and make some noise with our selection of the best Mac apps around.

Store wars

The apps in our round-up are mostly available on the Mac App Store, although some can be bought directly from their creators; some can only be bought that way.

For beginners, initially going MAS-only is probably a good idea. Mac App Store apps are straightforward to install, tied to your Apple ID, don’t require registration keys, and can be redownloaded at any time.

But going further afield has its own benefits. Direct sales means more money for the creators, but also access to products Apple won’t sell on its store, due to them requiring deeper macOS integration. However, when buying direct, please ensure sites you download from are reputable (like those linked to below).

The best Mac photo and video apps

Apps for making your snaps shine, unleashing your inner designer, and becoming the next Spielberg.

Pixelmator Pro

Most people don’t need full-fat Photoshop for improving their pics – but they want something a bit more powerful than Apple’s Photos. Pixelmator Pro brings some natty black threads to your Mac – and also Machine Learning.

Like Pixelmator Photo for iPad, this Mac app attempts to fix any snap with a single button press – and it often succeeds. And when you need to delve deeper, there’s a solid mix of adjustment sliders, drawing tools, and eye-popping visual effects.

Buy Pixelmator Pro (£38.99, Mac App Store)

Affinity Designer

For some digital artists, the very thought of raster art makes them think every pixel is jabbing them in the eye. Instead, they prefer getting their vectors on, using shapes and curves to craft gorgeous illustrations, diagrams and interfaces.

Affinity Designer is a buttery smooth option for creating such artwork on a Mac. It comes across like Adobe Illustrator without the flab, smartly integrates with Affinity Photo, has a feature-equivalent iPad version, and is a huge bargain at under 50 quid.

Buy Affinity Designer (£48.99, direct / £48.99, Mac App Store)

The best Mac music and audio apps

Apps that’ll instantly transform you into the next Kraftwerk, Fatboy Slim or Hendrix. Probably.

Korg Gadget

We adore the iOS version of this app. The Mac incarnation perhaps brings across a bit too much of that version, ignoring some Mac conventions; but there’s no denying that it’s packed full of amazing synths and noises.

The scene/loop-based workflow is pretty great as well, enabling you to crank out electronic masterpieces that’d make Aphex Twin, Daft Punk and Depeche Mode nod approvingly. As an added bonus, each synth is also provided as a plug-in for Logic Pro X.

Buy Korg Gadget ($299, direct)

djay Pro 2

You might think the world would be a better place if everyone was still knee-deep in vinyl. The fact is that even DJs are increasingly shifting their decks from the physical to the virtual.

If you fancy transforming your Mac in similar fashion, djay Pro 2 is where it’s at. You can kick off with basic crossfading and beat-matching on a two-deck set-up, or take the plunge with full-on four-deck madness with videos and slideshows, adding irritating phasing effects to your heart’s content.

Buy djay Pro 2 (£48.99, Mac App Store)

Capo 3

Nailing a new song can drive you to madness – unless you first load the track into Capo 3. With this app, any song can be slowed right down without affecting its pitch, and you can then loop sections to master the tricky bits.

The app guesses (often accurately) what chords are being played, and you can draw on top of a spectrogram to have a fighting chance of figuring out riffs. To be more helpful, the app would actually have to play the guitar for you.

Buy Capo 3 (£34.99 per year, Mac App Store)

The best Mac writing and office apps

Everyone’s got a bestseller in them, right? Get yours out of your head with these apps. Or just write a memo or something. Your choice.

Scrivener 3

Whenever you’ve a piece of text to write you can’t just bang out in one go, you need something to organise notes, work on drafts, and stash research. If you hate yourself, use Word and a bunch of loose documents on your computer. Alternatively, try Scrivener 3.

The app’s usable but powerful, providing a wealth of tools for writing, arranging chunks of text, bundling research files, and exporting everything to PDF, EPUB or plain old text when you’re done.

Buy Scrivener 3 (£47, direct / £47.99, Mac App Store)

iA Writer

Even if what you’re writing is a bit more straightforward, that doesn’t mean you should immediately fire up Word, Pages, or Google Docs. Instead, avoid distractions with iA Writer.

This app comes across like the designer snapped at seeing one too many buttons in the aforementioned apps, and then went full-on minimal. But this makes for a great environment when you want to just get on with writing while what you’re using gets out of your way – like a smart modern take on a typewriter.

Buy IA Writer (£28.99, Mac App Store)

MindNode

Whether you’re planning a party or trying to get ideas for a vital project out of your head, mind-mapping is a great way to organise your thoughts. MindNode takes this approach into the digital realm, with a superb, flexible interface.

You can get started with a bulleted list, which with a single click explodes into a mind map that can be augmented with all manner of colour, imagery, stickers, and icons. And probably good ideas too, although they’re optional (and down to you).

Buy MindNode (£38.99, Mac App Store)

Soulver 3

Even the earliest Mac had a calculator. The snag is it was rubbish – and the one on current Macs is little better, barely moving on from a real-world equivalent. By contrast, Soulver is like a notepad that tots up sums as you go.

As you craft your calculations, with inline words for added context, figures are intelligently extracted. Line endings (totals) can be added as live tokens to subsequent lines, making for something that’s part notepad, part spreadsheet, part ‘back of an envelope scribbles’, and all magic.

Buy Soulver 3 ($29.95, direct)

The best Mac productivity apps

Make better use of your time, never forget a face, and delve into Windows on your Mac, with these great apps.

Cardhop

Much like Fantastical, Cardhop looks at an Apple stock app (in this case, Contacts), lets out a slightly too loud PFFT! noise, and reasons it can do things a lot better. In short, it’s a contacts app you’ll actually want to use.

Unlike Apple’s offering, Cardhop primarily sits in the menu bar, making it easy to quickly get at your list o’ chums ’n’ colleagues. There’s natural language smarts, a useful recents list, and handy action buttons when you need to give someone a call.

Buy Cardhop (£19,99. direct / £19.99, Mac App Store)

Parallels Desktop

You might have left Windows behind for a shiny new Mac, or be a long term Mac user who comes out in hives at the very mention of the W word. But sometimes, Windows just can’t be avoided.

Parallels Desktop lets you quickly and easily create virtual PCs, which can run inside their own windows, or you can opt to have Windows apps run side-by-side with Mac ones. The app can run Linux VMs too, and even ones with older versions of macOS if Apple’s horribly killed an app you depended on.

Buy Parallels Desktop (from £69.99, direct)

The best Mac essential utilities

Superb apps for powering up macOS, to help you work faster, free up space, and ensure you never lose a file.

Moom

Although macOS will let you quickly arrange windows in Full Screen and Split View, that’s pretty much your lot for managing things – unless you have Moom installed, of course.

This app offers a slew of window management choices. You can resize a window by dragging it to a screen edge, by drawing a box on the screen to say where you want it to go, or by way of a user-defined keyboard shortcut. Once you’ve used Moom, Macs feel naked without it.

Buy Moom ($10, direct / £9.99, Mac App Store)

BetterTouchTool

This app tries to be friendly, but may bewilder newcomers. Persevere, though, because BetterTouchTool can radically power up every one of your input devices.

It achieves this through you defining trigger/shortcut pairs. For example, you might launch Mail with Shift+Ctrl+M, add advanced four-finger gestures to your trackpad, power up the Touch Bar, or adjust how window buttons behave when clicked along with a modifier. This one needs you to invest time, then, but will pay you back with lashings of interest.

Buy BetterTouchTool ($21, direct)