The must-have OS X apps for developers and designers

mac os x apps

Yep, it’s the post every Mac user has to publish at least once in their lifetime. But hear me out now; If you’re a designer or developer, you might this list useful.


I like efficiency. It gives me a sense of clarity, and completeness. An efficient writer will write more in less time, an efficient driver will get better gas mileage, an efficient athlete will train better for a race.

It takes time to learn how to be efficient. Each person is different, and you have to try stuff to see if they work for you, and fit your work style. I want to show you how I roll.


On my MacBook Air 13”, I’ve hid my dock, to gain some vertical space for apps (yes, I know I can run apps in fullscreen).

I run a few apps in fullscreen: SublimeText, Spotify, and Mail. I write code in fullscreen SublimeText, swipe to the right, and refresh the browser to see the changes. Or, I work with non-fullscreen apps like Finder, Photoshop, etc., and I know that a swipe to the left is SublimeText; two swipes is Spotify, and so on. It’s faster that pressing Cmd + Tab 12 times (depends on the number of apps you have running) to find SublimeText from the list, for example.

I find it faster to run apps using the spotlight shortcut [Cmd + Space], and type in the first few letters of the app. But if I don’t know/remember the app, I find it much faster to pinch with four fingers and find it from the menu.


I have all my apps divided into four categories/folders:

  1. “Apple” (Dictionary, FaceTime, Photobooth, etc.).
  2. “Other” (Keychain Access, TimeMachine, Disk Utility, etc.).
  3. “Utilities”.
  4. “Apps” (not inside a folder).


Dropbox for storage/backup. I almost forgot to add it to the list! That’s what I love about it: it’s unobtrusive. It’s just there, always working perfectly. It has saved me many times; I permanently deleted a file, only to remember that I need it. If I had it synced with Dropbox, I just restore it (deleted files are kept for 30 days). Another use is doing website testing on external devices. I add the site to the “Public” folder, and load the URL on the browser of my iPad, iPhone, etc. I wrote moving my websites to Dropbox.

Google Chrome for browsing. Until recently, I was using Safari. The Chrome DevTools made me switch forever.

SublimeText for coding. I spend my life in it, so I might as well make it look pretty. Download my User settings.

Adobe CS suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects) for design, photography, and videos. A no brainer. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with Sketch for design work. I’m not ready to replace Photoshop, yet.

Mail for reading emails. Far from perfect, and I need an alternative besides Sparrow. I can’t wait for dotMail to come out.

Spotify for listening to music. Or if you want an alternative, try Rdio.

Skype for chatting/video calls. What annoys me the most is not being able to click on the taskbar icon to bring the app to the front (a solution is to use the technique with fullscreen/swiping, describe above). Use this chat style to make your chatroom prettier.

Tower for pushing code to GitHub. Makes Git simple. Say goodbye to the command line.

Byword for writing. A minimal app that inspires you to write. Alternatives are iA Writer or SublimeText.

VLC for watching videos.

Transmission for torrenting. I wouldn’t be where I am without torrents, and in more general strokes, the Internet. I don’t support piracy, but I do support knowledge. Having paid for a higher education that taught me few useful things, I now value free knowledge (and try to give some, through this blog). This is a topic for another blog post, though.

ImageOptim for reducing file size of graphics. It works like magic, you drag and drop your images, and ImageOptim reduces their file size. To reduce the file size of transparent PNG-24 assets, you can useImageAlpha. It converts the PNG-24 image to an 8 bit PNG with a full alpha channel.

LiveView for broadcasting your screen to an iOS device. Useful for designers developing graphics for iOS devices. Supports retina as well. You can also control the cursor of your Mac from the iOS device, useful when doing design prototypes or presentations. Requires Live View installed on the iOS device as well.

Reflection for mirroring the iOS device’s screen onto a Mac. Useful for demos, presentations, tutorials, or product videos. The product video demo I did for HopIn was created with this app.

ScreenFlow for recording your screen. The best app for this job. The tutorial I did to show you how to make your sites pretty on retina was created with this app.

Induction for connecting to databases. I suck at Terminal and the command line. Induction lets me connect and browse databases easily.


I define utilities as small apps, that run in the background and help you with specific tasks, or make your life easier.

Paragon NTFS for Mac for connecting NTFS drives to OS X. It allows you to connect your NTFS drives to your Mac without formatting them in a weird format readable only by Macs. Thanks to this, I can still use my external drives on other Operating Systems.

F.lux turns your Mac screen yellow. This app changes your screen’s colour to look like the room you’re in. Doing that allows me to work more by staying up late, and staring at my screen longer without hurting my eyes. It might look weird at first, but once you get used to it, your eyes will love it.

Brightness Slider for reducing screen brightness. When you can’t reduce the brightness of your screen any lower, you can use this app to lower it even more. Especially during the night, your eyes will thank you.

Slicy for exporting assets from Photoshop. Drag and drop your PSD, and assets are created automatically. It also generates @2x from 1x assets, and vice versa.

The Unarchiver for extracting and compressing files. Much better than the Archive Utility app.

Icon Slate for exporting icons. I use it mostly for creating favicons that have embedded both retina and non-retina versions into one file (“favicon.ico”).

TextExpander for keyboard shortcuts and snippets. With this app you create snippets to help you code faster, and to make you more productive. You can add snippets for your email signature, or your address, or your phone number. It has potential, but I have a terrible memory, so I tend to forget my snippets and I have to search for the snippet code that I assigned. Not very efficient. Download some cool snippets.

Canon EOS Utility for remote access to camera. Connect your dSLR camera to your Mac and operate it from a distance. I used it in the past as a high quality live webcam (1080p recording). I had Skype recording my screen, which was occupied by the Canon EOS Utility app, that was showing live video from the camera.

CrossOver for running Windows apps. Instead of using Parallels to install Windows on your Mac, and occupy precious disk space, it’s better to simply run Windows apps (.exe) with this very cool app.

iExplorer for transferring between iOS devices. It allows you to browser or transfer music, videos, photos, and tinker with the device’s folders (useful for theming your iOS device).

Monolingual for removing language packs and freeing disk space. Especially if you’re on an Air, disk space is precious. Use this app to remove all the language resources your Mac came with. I left only three languages (English, Greek, Romanian). I don’t remember how much space it has saved me, but I think it was around 2-3 GB.

AppTrap for removing apps. With AppTrap, when you move an application to the trash, you can also delete its preferences and “leftovers”.


To make designing easier, I use some cool plugins for Photoshop:

  • GuideGuide for making grids.
  • Kuler for picking colours and palettes. To enable it, in Photoshop, go to Window > Extension > Kuler. It should be there.
  • WebZap for creating layouts, mockups, editing many text fields.
  • DevRocket for faster designing and exporting iOS UI elements.
  • CSSHat for turning layer styles into CSS code.

To make developing websites easier, I use some cool extensions for Google Chrome:

On top of that, I even learned to type using a new, more efficient keyboard layout, called Colemak. With the Colemak layout, your fingers move 2.2x less than with a QWERTY keyboard layout. It also supports multilingual, and allows you to type weird symbols (like: €, â, ñ, etc.) without switching languages. The negative aspect is that you have to invest time to learn the layout.

Be wary of small refinements that lead to even smaller gains. They’re not worthy it. Apply the Pareto principle which states that 80% of the effects should come from 20% of the actions. Go forth and make stuff!

Why Apple’s moves have to be more carefully calculated than Google’s

The debate of which mobile OS is better has been going on for years. Whether you use iOS or Android, you’ve probably heard phrases like “open”, “we had it first”, “smoother” or “more polished” to describe the differences between the two. Both are true in many cases, but what many don’t realize is why that’s the case.There’s a distinct reason why the Android ecosystem can afford to push out “less polished” products and services, and why Apple tends to take its time to “get it right.” The reason? Business models.

While many may think that Apple and Google are very similar, the truth is that they are very different, especially when you look at the way each generates revenue. For Apple, it boils down to hardware sales. If Apple sells more iPhones, iPads, and Macs, they make more money. They simply make a product, and sell it for a profit.

Google on the other hand is pretty much an advertising company. The majority of their revenue comes from ad sales. If they sell more ads, they make more money. This difference between the two companies dramatically effects how products services are shipped. Let me explain.

First, let’s look at the iOS ecosystem. Many would use the word “closed” and “curated” to describe it. That’s a pretty accurate assessment if you ask me. Take a look at iMessage, Apple’s text-messaging alternative. Why haven’t we seen iMessage ported over to Android? The answer boils down to hardware sales. By making the service only available to those with Apple devices, it incentivizes people to buy Apple products. If I know that the majority of my friends and family use iMessage, I’m probably more likely to buy an Apple device. Keeping the services proprietary pushes the sales of more hardware. This is the case with many of Apple’s other services too. FaceTime, Airplay, Find My iPhone and more.

Now let’s look at Google. For Google, it doesn’t matter nearly as much if they sell less Nexus devices. All they care about is ad sales and user information. This is why they have no problem creating services that work on iOS. In fact, one could argue that Apple users are more important to them than Android users. Why? Because usage patterns have indicated that iOS users spend more time on their phones, browse the internet more, and spend more money. All this makes Google happy.

But that’s not the most important part. Because Apple is a hardware company that depends on sales of their devices to make money, it’s much more important that the products they make are really good from the start. If Apple were to build a half-ass iPhone or iPad, it would have a dramatic effect on their bottom line. Google, on the other hand, doesn’t nearly depend on device sales. Again, they’re all about ads and user information. If Google builds a half-ass smartphone or tablet and it flops, it doesn’t hurt them nearly as much.

At the beginning of WWDC, Apple played a video that explained how they approach building products. The video said things like “design takes focus” and “it takes time.” These are absolutely true for a company that has very little margin for error when shipping a product. They have built themselves to be the company that puts out the nicest hardware year after year.

This isn’t to say that Google can’t make good products. What it means, though, is that Google’s priorities are in a very difference place. Because ads contribute to the vast majority of their revenue, they can afford to try things out and have them fail with almost no consequences. A tablet with touchscreen problems doesn’t effect them nearly in the same way. Imagine if that had happened to iPads? It would be a PR nightmare.

So next time you pick up an iOS or Android device, think about why certain decisions are made. It’s not because one is lazy or less innovative. It’s likely because they have very different business models and different expectations.