The Best App for the Job

When you bought your Mac, or perhaps another smart device, chances are you didn’t plan on just using the bundles apps that were already installed on it. There’s dozens of apps we all use every day that make our machines vastly more useful than they’d be on their own. When we don’t know what to use for a job, a quick visit to the App Store is usually all that’s required to find an app that’ll fit the bill.

Problem is, there’s too many apps for any of us to ever use, much less master. And there’s always that nagging suspicion that there’s a better app that could let you do what you’re doing faster.

If only you had the best app.

Surely there’s an app for that…

Ever tried to make a map? Unless you just want to print off Google Maps, it’s no where near as easy as it looks. Just trying to figure out what streets to show is difficult enough, and then you’ve got to draw the actual map. My quick App Store search didn’t yield any apps that would magically make it easier to make a map, so I resorted to Adobe Illustrator.

No, I’m not a designer. I know Photoshop fairly well, but Illustrator is Greek to me. Even still, 45 minutes later, I had a half-way decent map, but it was never good enough. So I gave up. Time to call in the pros.

A couple days later, my fiancé asked a friend if he could make a map for us, since we’d seen a small map he’d made for an invite that looked quite nice. He takes on the job, and a few minutes later he calls me over to double-check the location names. That’s when I see the app my friend had just made a professional-looking map in.

Microsoft Paint.

Paint to the rescue.

I’m sure none of us would call Microsoft Paint a pro app, and most of us reading Mac.AppStorm would have a hard time thinking that a PC app was better for the job than a Mac app. The thing is, it wasn’t that Paint was the very best app for making maps, period. But for my friend, it was the best app because he knew how to do it.

I, being a perfectionist, couldn’t settle for my own efforts in a pro app, while my friend took an app he knew how to use and made something far nicer in minutes.

The Russians Used a Pencil

There’s an oft-repeated tale that during the space race, NASA spent millions developing an ink pen that could be used in zero gravity, while the Russians simply used pencils. The real story wasn’t quite as simple, but it’s amusing to think about how much we often overcomplicate tasks. We’re so used to needing a specialized app for everything, we often overlook the simple tools we have at hand that could solve the job in an easier way.

Sure, that’s not the best strategy if you’re, say, trying to store the data of your nation’s census. In that case, you might want to really search for the best tool. But when you’re needing to do a simple task on your computer, you likely already have an app that could do it just fine.

The fewer the tools, the greater the imagination.

~Ben Orki

Should you use Powerpoint or Keynote as a page layout tool? Perhaps not, but it sure has worked plenty of times for me when I needed to make quick fliers. How about saving webpages as PDF, combining them in Preview, then reading them later? Might not be the best way to save web pages for later, but it sure worked for me in college on internal sites that wouldn’t work with Instapaper. Or should you use Numbers (or Excel, or Google Spreadsheets) to pick random winners of giveaways? There might be a better app, but randbetween() in a spreadsheet has been working fine for me for years now.

Imagine what we could do just with the preloaded apps on a Mac. Really.

Sometimes, enough is enough.

It’s nice to have tons of fancy apps, and a limitless app budget. But as our friend Patrick Rhone would say, perhaps what you have is enough. As app reviewers, we make it easy to get tempted to buy all the apps that come out. Sorry! But don’t think apps are the only answer. Sometimes, throw in a little ingenuity, and you’ll find that the tools you already have are plenty powerful enough for the little tasks that come up in your life.

So go make the most of the apps you have, the apps you already know inside out. They might have more potential in them than you’d ever have imagined.


Add Yours
  • How so true! To this day, the first tool I will always go to is Graphic Converter.

  • meh

  • Of course,Microsoft Paint is a powerful app in my old pc^_^
    As TextEdit in my Mac is also a powerful app.
    They are powerful ,efficient and enough for me to accomplish my tasks.

  • Nothing really! Those apps may be nice and sure can be used productivly, but without the “App Store” and downloading some basic apps, you will not get very far.

    No really, there is no word processing or spreadsheet software or even some photo organisation and graphic manipulation app installed on “this” mac.

    Considering everything that is pre-installed, a Mac is basically a gloryfied “palm/calender equivalent” with the ability to take pictures ;-)

    • TextEdit isn’t too shabby of a writing tool and basic word processor, and with the bundled iLife apps, there’s actually a lot you can do. But you’re right: you do need at least some apps. I’m just saying, sometimes the apps you have might be enough, and you really don’t have to go get more apps for some tiny specialized task.

      • Well, if you get the iLife bundle, than you “palm/calender equivalent” may turn into a full fletched creativity power house.

        Actually, I got you point and totally forgot about TextEdit. You should change the screenshot above because it is misleading ;-)

        • Ah, I’d moved TextEdit to my “Writing Apps” folder (which has 15 writing apps … yes, this article was preaching to the choir). Otherwise, that’s most of the preinstalled apps, not counting iLife. Also, thrown in iWork, and most people wouldn’t need much else, ever. Perhaps Pixelmator or another cheaper photo editor too.

  • your*

  • Well put Matthew. Just yesterday I needed to create a figure for a paper I was writing. So I went and downloaded a trial of a diagramming app and started making the figure. When I tried to save the figure, I was prompted to purchase the app in order to save the file. I considered it for about half a second, then opened Pages and completed the figure with no problems. It had everything I needed but still went looking for another app.

  • Great article, Matthew!

    Indeed, when switching from Windows to Mac OS X 5 years ago, the thing I missed (and still misses, actually) is a built-in Mac OS X equivalent to MS Paint.

  • Kudo Matthew. You are so so right. To rationalize my appaholism, I’m always imagining that the next app I try will change my life. You’ve reminded me of the sanity I once possessed.

  • Ortelius ( is a Mac app intended for creating maps; maybe you should’ve tried that. :P (goes and misses the whole point of the article)

  • I agree very strongly. Bigger is not better, newer is not always needed. When you have a number of apps that work well (and together), keep them and you probably save time. Keep it simple, until a simpler ecosystem comes around. Examples: Evernote, Devonthink Pro, IA Writer, Scrivener work for me. Thanks for the article!