The 20 Best Mac Apps of 2011

As we bid farewell to 2011 and greet 2012, we always like to take a look back and see which apps really stood out over the last year. There’s never a shortage of amazing apps to discuss, the hardest part of this post is simply narrowing down the options to something manageable! We put out a call to all our contributors and Twitter followers and asked for your favorite apps from the past year. The votes are in and the results were loud and clear.

Before we begin, let’s go over the rules. The idea here is to take a look at apps for which 2011 was significant. Perhaps they were released in 2011 or had a totally overhauled new version that blew us away. For instance, in last year’s post, Transmit 4 was a clear and easy choice. However, this year Transmit 4 won’t be on the list. It’s still an amazing app, but 2011 wasn’t really that significant in the Transmit story. Now that you get the idea, let’s jump in and take a look at some awesome apps that made big waves in 2011.

The Mac App Store

I can think of no better way to start off this post. 2011 was most certainly the year of the App Store. Ever since the iOS App Store first debuted in iTunes, many Mac users knew that it was inevitable that the same model of app distribution would eventually come to the Mac. For better or worse, the App Store arrived in early 2011 and since then users have downloaded over 100 million apps!

There are plenty of reasons to not like the App Store. Apple is a harsh dictator when it comes to what is and isn’t allowed, developers are forced to share their frequently meager profits with Apple, etc. However, you can’t help but appreciate how simple it has become to find, download and even update software on the Mac platform. It’s truly a remarkable development that has changed the way we all use our Macs and will no doubt continue to drive development for years to come.

Price: Free (Built into Lion)
Developer: Apple

Twitter for Mac

When Twitter gobbled up AteBits to get their hands on the best iPhone Twitter client on the market, we all thought it spelled doom for the beloved Tweetie Mac client. For ages Tweetie fans watched as other clients evolved and took on new features, made possible by the ever-changing Twitter network. Tweetie however stayed behind, collecting dust. Despite this, many of us (myself included) still clung to this client above all others. Lack of continued development aside, it was still the best experience around.

With the arrival of the App Store, something amazing happened. The long rumored Tweetie 2 was released under the simple new title of “Twitter.” It kept everything we loved about the old version, got a sweet Lion-centric facelift before many of us really knew what that would mean, and took on all the new features that Twitter had amassed such as lists, official RTs and trends.

This outstanding free app was the first Mac App Store success story and quickly climbed the most downloaded charts. Unfortunately, it also directly led to the widespread demise of the third party Twitter client world. In a seemingly cruel move, Twitter had opened up their platform for development, allowed developers to make amazing strides and innovations that took the network to new heights, then simply wrote a check for that innovation and took over the market themselves, squishing the indie developers who helped make Twitter what it is today (they took over TweetDeck as well). Now, going into 2012 it looks as if Twitter for Mac is back at the bottom of the list of Twitter’s concerns, staying stagnant as other apps in the family are completely overhauled.

Price: Free
Developer: Twitter

Reeder

In June of 2011, Reeder finally exited beta and hit the Mac App Store. This app has single handedly overhauled a tired and boring Mac RSS reader industry. Building on iOS design trends and its previous success in that market, Reeder brought a beautifully minimal reading experience to the Mac in a perfectly widescreen friendly three column interface. It also featured a contracted view that gives a nod to the Twitter for Mac interface with its skinny left sidebar.

Finally, reading our RSS feeds had begun to feel a lot less like reading email and a lot more like an enjoyable daily experience. Since Reeder debuted, copycat developers have been churning out clones at full speed. Nothing though has quite matched Reeder’s charm and beautiful simplicity and users continue to be fiercely loyal.

Price: $9.99
Developer: Silvio Rizzi

Fantastical

While Apple was busy pushing out a cheesy new iCal interface, the real iCal revival came from the third party market. The most notable entrant in this category is without a doubt Fantastical, which truly lives up to its name.

Released in May, Fantastical immediately became the quintessential menu bar calendar client. The interface is attractive and is well beyond the generic offerings made by other developers, but where Fantastical really stands out is in its functionality. The natural language data entry is a dream. Type “meet joe at 5pm on Monday” and Fantastical will instantly create a corresponding event in iCal with the proper data and can even automatically create multiple reminders so you won’t forget. Try it out and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you become dependent on this intelligent personal assistant. Even though it tightly integrates with iCal, it’s so good as a standalone app that I can’t even remember the last time I actually went into iCal itself.

Price: $19.99
Developer: Flexibits

iA Writer

2011 was also the year when minimal fullscreen text editing hit full stride. It’s interesting to see a genre of apps go through a widespread removal of features and come out better for it, but that’s exactly what text editors have done. Many writers now value the simplicity of zero interface and little to no text formatting as a powerful tool to write without distractions.

In this category, iA Writer stands out as a clear crowd favorite and innovative forerunner. It may have built on the success of previous apps like WriteRoom, but it quickly set itself apart with unique features like auto-markdown formatting, focus mode and iCloud support. Also check out Byword, a similar app that has even better Markdown integration.

Price: $8.99
Developer: Information Architects

Pixelmator 2

Pixelmator is the developer fairy tale story. Photoshop alternatives have historically sucked, it seemed that no one could come up with a decent yet affordable alternative good enough for professionals to not scoff at. Then came Pixelmator, a super slick and surprisingly powerful graphics editor that struck App Store gold nearly as soon as Apple’s new store arrived.

Now in its second version sporting tons of new features and capability, Pixelmator is better than ever. It’s so good that it was just named “App of the Year” by Apple. At under $30, Pixelmator is an amazing value. You’ll be hard pressed to find another app that offers so much for so little.

Price: $29.99
Developer: Pixelmator Team Ltd.

Sparrow

On last year’s list, Sparrow was a shiny new Gmail client with a spin: it borrowed the Tweetie interface. This represented a pretty radical shift in email interface design and was initially a bit of a quirky and interesting email alternative.

Today Sparrow is a mature and highly impressive email app that supports just about every email service you could need. The features have caught up to the interface and thousands of users have made Sparrow their one and only choice for email. If you haven’t tried it yet, it’s time to take the plunge. Sparrow will rock your world.

Price: $9.99 (free ad-supported version available)
Developer: Sparrow SAS

Growl

Growl has been around for ages as the go-to app for notifications on your Mac. It’s always been free and open source, but last year the team decided to take it into the App Store and begin charging a nominal $1.99 to help ensure development stays active.

Along with this change was a complete overhaul of how Growl works (largely due to restrictions from the App Store no doubt). Growl is no longer a Preference Pane, it now sits in your menu bar and has a nice chunk of new features and themes. The best update is the ability to view notifications that you missed while you were away. If you haven’t tried Growl in a while, it’s time to take another look.

Price: $1.99
Developer: Growl Team

Wunderlist

Wunderlist was released at the end of 2010, which means most of its growth and press was in 2011. I simply can’t say enough about Wunderlist. This app and its iOS counterparts changed everything in the productivity category. Just as we had all gotten used to the idea that simple todo list apps should cost upwards of $50 and have limited to no syncing ability, Wunderlist releases with a beautiful customizable interface, awesome todo functionality, multi-user collaboration and seamless cloud syncing, which now works across just about every major platform… free.

It sounded too good to be true but here we are a year later and they still haven’t surprised us with hidden fees or some weird cost structure. There are now versions for Mac, iPhone, iPad, Windows, Linux, Android and the web and you can use them all together without instantly updating lists.

Price: Free
Developer: 6Wunderkinder

Raven

It’s not often that we see a new web browser that truly attempts to take a different approach to web browsing. Safari, Chrome and Firefox are all unique in their own ways, but they’re all still at their cores the basic web browser format that we’ve been using for years.

Raven is something else entirely. It’s completely built around the concept of simplifying how you use web apps. I’ve lost count of how many apps on this list borrow the Twitter for Mac sidebar and this is another, this time it’s used as a “Smart Bar” that functions as an awesome way to switch between your favorite sites and web apps. When you click on a Raven App in the sidebar, it expands and gives you a dedicated menu for that item. So for the Google app, you can quickly switch between the various Google services that you use regularly. I use Raven daily and continually appreciate its unique charm.

Price: Free
Developer: RavenCo

Spotify and Rdio

Neither of these apps was new in 2011, but something important happened that changed everything for both: Spotify came to the United States. This caused a huge influx of new Spotify users and ushered in the era of complete radio freedom where users can choose exactly what they want to listen to.

Before the arrival of Spotify and its awesome free ad-supported plan, Rdio pretty much owned this category in the U.S. (and had only premium paid accounts), but now with the extra competition Rdio has had to follow suit and launch its own free plan that’s arguably even better than Spotify’s (no ads, just a play cap). These are important developments in radio history and could have a major long term effect on how we all listen and pay for music.

Price: Free (paid plans available)
Developer: Spotify Ltd and Rdio, Inc.

Espresso 2

Espresso 2 is the second iteration of MacRabbit’s awesome coding environment for Mac developers. It has everything you loved from Espresso 1 (theming, auto-updating live HTML previews, code folding, smart snippets, auto complete) with some awesome new features like the ability to Xray live previews to analyze their code structure and load in and tweak any site on the web.

The biggest and best feature of this update is that CSSEdit has been discontinued and integrated into Espresso, which means all those awesome visual CSS controls and manual editing tools are rolled into one super awesome app. If you’re a developer, you simply have to check this app out.

Price: $79
Developer: MacRabbit

Skitch

Skitch is by no means a new app, it’s been at the top of our list for screenshot annotation and sharing apps for a while. However, last year Skitch hit the big time and was purchased by the amazing Evernote team.

This means great things for Skitch both in the short and long term. In the short term, both the full version of Skitch and its accompanying sharing service were made completely free to all users. In the long run, you’ll start to see better integration with Evernote and a lot more versions (Android has already been released, iOS is in the works).

Price: Free
Developer: Evernote

Alfred 1.0

Readers of AppStorm are no stranger to Alfred. We’ve been gushing about this friendly and easily approachable launcher since day one. What started as a simple way to launch apps though has grown into a workhorse of power and functionality that even rivals the feature set of Quicksilver.

Last year, Alfred grew and matured quite a bit and even hit that ever important milestone: the official 1.0 release. Alfred now has an awesome extension system that is driving its ever expanding usefulness, improved clipboard history and snippet functionality, and a fully customizable global hotkey system that allows you to set keyboard shortcuts for all kinds of actions on your Mac. There are only two types of Mac users: those that use Alfred and those that should use Alfred.

Price: Free (£15 for the Powerpack)
Developer: The Alfred Team

Wren

Five bucks for a Twitter app with no timeline? Are you nuts? Perhaps, but we really fell for this awesome little app. Wren helps you keep up on your tweeting during the workday without getting sucked into the inescapable productivity killer that is Twitter.

The app is gorgeous and has lots of great features like multiple account support, drafts, auto complete for usernames, global hotkeys, link shortening and a fullscreen mode.

Price: $4.99
Developer: Kevin Smith

Producteev

Wunderlist isn’t the only free todo app on the market offering awesome functionality and instant sync between multiple platforms. Producteev has been in this game for a while now and finally released a native Mac client in mid 2011. The Producteev Mac app is super attractive and allows you to completely manage your accounts, projects and lists.

If you’re not a fan of the simplicity of Wunderlist, check out Producteev. It has a ton of amazing features and is more of a full on project management tool than a simple todo list manager. You can collaborate and communicate with other users, access an in-app notification center, schedule repeating tasks, attach files and use natural language input to schedule tasks.

Price: Free (paid plans available)
Developer: Producteev

Carousel

As we all continue to sink deeper into our addiction to Instagram, an iPhone-only photo sharing social network, we are constantly on the lookout for new and great ways to experience the service. One of the areas that’s really starting to take off in this niche is Mac clients. Though you can only upload to Instagram via an iPhone, the developer API does allow you to view and interact with the service to a limited extent from almost anywhere.

Our favorite Instagram Mac client is Carousel. It perfectly captures the retro charm of Instagram and is a great way to view photos from your friends, like and comment on images, and even save them to your Mac.

Price: $1.99
Developer: Mobelux

Day One

Day One made a huge splash last year as the best new journaling solution for Mac and iOS. This seemingly simple app helps you focus on writing without skimping on the important features you want and need.

With Day One you can make quick entries via the menu bar or use the attractive main window, set up daily reminders to write, view your entries in a calendar mode, sync entries to the iOS app via Dropbox and password protect your information to keep it safe from prying eyes.

Price: $9.99
Developer: Bloom Built

Boom

Laptop speakers suck, especially when combined with Internet video streaming with a low quality audio stream. It’s often the case that you have to put on headphones just to hear, which is definitely not ideal if multiple people are watching and listening.

Enter Boom, an app that caught a lot of attention at the 2011 Macworld Expo. With Boom you can easily boost the volume on your speakers so you can actually hear that show on Hulu. You can also target specific audio and video files to boost so they’re louder wherever you listen to them, even on your iPad and iPhone.

Price: $8.99
Developer: Global Delight Technologies

What Were Your Favorites?

That concludes our list of the twenty best Mac apps in 2011. We had plenty of brand new apps that were instant classics and even saw some old faces that continue to push out great updates and impress us year after year.

Leave a comment below and tell us about your favorite apps this year. Did we miss anything that deserved to be on the list? How did 2011 make your life better as a Mac user? We want to know!


  • Carlos

    1Password for Mac

    • T.W.

      Yes, of course.

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Love the app and use it every day, but I checked the update history and didn’t see anything too revolutionary last year. Though I could definitely be wrong.

      • Paul Dunahoo

        Yeah, no major changes for that app. **Sob**

      • Tim

        Because it doesn’t need any major changes.

  • http://twitter.com/the_risingtide Matt

    Overall it’s a good list of apps, but I hate to have to point out that I really don’t find the Mac App Store worthy of being on this list. Sure, as a service/infrastructure it may deserve credit for spurring on some of these apps’ creation, but the Mac App Store application itself is nothing to cheer about.

    First you have the non-standard positioning of the triple buttons in the top left, then the non-standard interface/navigation elements on along the top, and finally the lack of anything useful in the Menu Bar items. Don’t even get me started on the too-similar-to-the-also-not-good-iTunes icon. I’ve never been impressed by the application itself, it screams that it is simply a wrapper for the web-based iTunes/App Store storefront.

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Your points make sense from a pure app review standpoint. However, you’re missing the bigger picture of the impact that the App Store as a platform has had on the Mac community. It has fundamentally changed the way we find, download, install and update applications. No other app on this list can make such lofty claims.

      • Sigilist

        And you’ve overlooked another influence, Joshua… it has had the same effect as big box stores moving in on small cities and towns… the death of localized private stores on the internet… the glut of apps (many not worth it) in the A-store that make it harder and harder to find just the right app. Appstore is not an app and does not belong on this list with the noteable others you chose.

      • Reter

        @Sigilist: Name 3 online stores for software that are analogous to small-town retailers…
        What the App Store has changed is that instead of the transaction taking place on the developers’ own websites, they’re taking place through the App Store. The developers are still getting paid and in many cases making many more sales. Apple takes a cut, the developer doesn’t need to worry about e-commerce infrastructure, the product gets in front of many more eyeballs than it probably would have.
        As for a glut of apps, what’s wrong with that? The Internet didn’t get switched off when the App Store came along – the product pages are still there on developers’ websites, except now the ‘Buy’ link goes somewhere else. Want someone to curate the glut of apps for you and tell you which to buy? That’s what this list is for.

    • Tim

      I would agree with this and also add that the search really sucks in the app store. It reminds me of the Apple website search, which is also awful. It is so hard to find anything without actually knowing exactly what you’re looking for.
      Even without the search, take for example the Categories page. There are no descriptions as to what the categories are, only a few apps listed under each category name. Now if I am a first time Mac user and just got a new iMac and wanted to find software to, say, store recipes, what category do I look in?
      Apple needs to think of the App Store like it is its own website. Things need to be described clearly. They need to have large Buy Now buttons and those buttons need to be positioned on the right hand side of the page. That is a standard and Apple is breaking it. Even their online store follows that rule, but not the App Store.
      It needs a MAJOR overhaul.

  • http://www.appleumbrella.com Apple Umbrella

    really useful list you compile. thanks for sharing

  • http://webdesignstarnberg.de Timo

    Great article! thanks!

    But Boom got its price up to $8.99.

    Bye

  • Thiago Araújo Silva

    Nice list. However, I would exchange Reeder with Pulp, which in my opinion provides a nicer experience, and IA Writer with Byword. I would add “Caffeine” to the list… it’s a small, but hugely useful app that I can’t live without. I prefer The Hist List for “todo” and GTD. AudioNote is also a great app, it has proven to be so useful to record and annotate my meetings. I highly recommend it.

    Regarding the Mac App Store, I hope Apple fixes its sluggishness… it’s a shame the App Store feels so slow in all the computers I used, specially when scrolling the content. It feels unpolished for an Apple app. I must say, I still prefer to buy apps in the third party market, because often developers have to cut off features in order to meet Apple’s requirements, besides other issues.

    • T.W.

      I also like Pulp for reading RSS.

    • mkrakowiak

      Pulp is buggy and is irritating to use. Reeder works flawlessly and it syncs nicely with the versions for iPad/iPhone. Reeder is hands down a winner in this category!

  • http://lri.me/ Lri

    My list would’ve included these applications as well:

    - Moom – A window moving and zooming utility by Many Tricks released in 2011.
    - NetNewsWire Lite 4.0 – A redesigned free version of NetNewsWire released before NNW was sold to Black Pixel.
    - CloudApp – A file sharing service like Droplr that really took off last year due to being available for free at the App Store.
    - Vico – An overlooked TextMate contender that supports vi keybindings and is scriptable in Nu.
    - Marked – Displays a live web preview for Markdown and HTML files.

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Great suggestions, Marked is really slick. Have you tried Mou? It’s pretty awesome as well.

    • Sigilist

      Another two thumbs up for Moom. Once I started using it (and I don’t even need it that often), I just can’t live without it for slick multi-app work anymore.

    • http://twitter.com/connor Connor Montgomery

      Cloudapp is awesome, and absolutely agree with you there.

  • A.Nguyen

    Heads up, boom had a price increase to 8.99

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Hmmm, they must have been having a sale before. Thanks for the heads up.

  • A.diaa

    the link of “carousel” app is broken in the article , please fix it

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Works perfectly now!

  • rock711

    Great list! Looks like you forgot to get the Mac App Store URLs for Carousel and Alfred though. They both link to a temporary URL (http://app-url.com/)

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Good catch, fixed!

  • Hakan

    Boom is really great application.

  • Paul Dunahoo

    Using Raven right now, in fact. I wish the apps were more “app” like, but hey, pretty nice so far. Can’t wait for version 1.0.

  • http://hushboom.com/ neil

    FYI – Loren Brichter no longer works for Twitter. http://twitter.com/#!/lorenb/status/132602670052683777

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Well crap, then Twitter for Mac is surely dead. Have you heard anything about its continued development?

  • http://www.producteev.com Ilan

    Thanks Josh for including Producteev!

  • http://www.massagista.org Portal Massagista

    yea, app is broken in the article , please fix it…

  • http://imknight.net knight

    search got “Developer Name” you can see there are few broken link

  • http://about.me/quagliato Eduardo Quagliato

    Is Kevin Smith a software developer too??? hahaha Sorry, couldn’t miss the joke.

  • Tim

    Painter 12, which is also a Photoshop alternative that doesn’t suck and has not sucked…ever.

  • John

    Raven has a rather lovely UI, especially the rather well thought-out Smart Bar, but it sucks 500 MB of RAM with only the Google+ module on…

  • Martin Sterling

    Probably the best app missing on this list is Login HD. It literally is the app I use the most. Best security app hands down. It definitely couldn’t make this list since it just came out before Christmas
    The moment you open the app it is quite obvious how good this app really is.

  • Tarik

    No doubt Pixelmator is top on the list but also TextWrangler and Alfred

  • http://www.ledlow.me @ledlow

    You list Producteev as being built by the same dev as Wunderlist, which is not correct.

  • Melissa

    TravelMapper – easy way to have a map and journal of your travels while you are doing them.

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  • E Gall

    How does Pixelmator 2 compare to freely-available GIMP?

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  • http://www.globaldelight.com Global Delight

    Hi Joshua,

    Thanks for including Boom in your list.

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    • Tyler

      Umm.. what?

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  • http://www.imagintionmedia.tv timdanyo

    Omnifocus. Best GTD app on the planet.

  • lazhar

    i love you apple so much

  • lazhar salhi elbaadj

    i looooooooooooooooooo……..ve you apple so much.

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