2020 has been a heck of a year, and one where we’ve really seen how dependent we can be on technology for news, socialization, communication, and more. It’s important to acknowledge the bad and to relieve that frustration or mourn in a healthy way. At the same time, it’s also helpful to count our blessings and thanks to people and groups that have helped us get through this year. In that spirit, here are 5 Mac apps that I’m thankful for in 2020.
I’ve had to send a lot of emails and messages in my line of work. Scheduling appointments with people, informing them of issues, getting information from them, etc. While many of these things are unique to that individual, group, and situation, there’s also a lot of stuff that I have to send that’s pretty repetitive (see getting availability to talk to someone about their machine’s issues). For all those times I have to send repetitive text, I found that I needed a text expansion app. The one I’ve been using this year has been aText. I used the free trial on my Mac, and after getting the feel of the app’s capabilities that I was looking for, I paid for a license in just 2 days. I can set a short string of text to write up whole paragraphs to people, even letting it pause to let me fill in scheduling info, and even select certain lines of text to appear or not based on the groups I was sending to them to, all of them with the formatting I need. It’s not just regular sentences, but also supports images, code snippets, and scripting in various formats.
I use this on my work iMac and my personal MacBook Pro, keeping the rules and shortcuts I have in sync just with built-in Dropbox support (it also supports other cloud storage providers like iCloud, Google Drive, etc.). aText is definitely something I’m happy I started using this year.
aText is available for Windows and Mac, and has a 21-day free trial. The full version is $4.99 plus tax for a lifetime license from the developer at trankynam.com/atext/
2: Jackbox Party Packs
Jackbox games have become rather popular with game streamers as well both traditional gamers and non-gamers alike, and it’s easy to see why. While the games in each party pack can vary greatly in their style and complexity, they all have an interesting gimmick or quirk with very tongue-in-cheek humor. And like many board games, and unlike most other video games, only one person needs the game to play to host it. Everyone else can play from their phone or laptop using any modern web browser and an Internet connection. And in a time where I had to help lead groups in some sort of game, be they friends, or groups of kids, or family, I found the Jackbox games reliable helpful. And many of them worked great over Zoom and translated well. Having accessibility options like closed captions and extended timers help us even with just new players, and family friendly filter settings helped with our younger players, it really made for an enjoyable experience. There were some hiccups, like Jackbox Pack 6 regularly not broadcasting sound over Zoom, there was always at least one game that was a success that night.
There are 7 different Party Packs at the time of this writing, each with 5 games a pack, though some of the games you can buy individually, or you can buy multiple packs in bundles to save a few bucks. The older games tend to be a little cheaper than the newer ones. You can buy the games for the following platforms (brace yourself, it’s a long list): Mac, Windows, Linux, iPad, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Apple TV, Fire TV, and Android TV. If you want to purchase it on Mac, you can buy them from the Mac App Store, Steam, the Epic Game Store, the Fanatical game store, or the Humble Bundle Store or on their website: jackboxgames.com.
One of the issues I have is that I have maybe a few too many chat services that I use, which got to be a little bigger with the pandemic. While most of my chats could be done via text or iMessage, I have some groups that I can only talk to on FB Messenger, some international contacts that I talk with over WhatsApp, work groups over Teams (and that’s not even half of them). Rather than keep install and keep all these apps working at once, I’ve instead been using Franz to keep the ones I use most available at the ready, things like GroupMe, WhatsApp, and a few others. The nice thing about it too is that I can mix the services not just with chat services but also email services like O365 and Gmail; social media apps like Twitter or Facebook Pages; business apps like Yammer, Zendesk, and GitHub; and a bunch of other apps. You can set custom websites to monitor as well. Also if you use texting services other than the one that comes with iPhone, you can integrate those too, specifically services like Android Messages, Google Voice, mySMS, and a few others.
Franz has some nice integrations like Dark Mode support and Notifications Center support, though the notifications aren’t interactive. You can’t reply to the messages or mark them as read from the notification but have to go to the app. The app is also an Electron app, which is how it’s able to access all of these services it does. This does mean while it’s running you may see a little more power usage or battery drain, but I don’t find it too bad in my daily use. While I think some improvements could be made, especially if it wasn’t an Electron app, it’s still very useful and I’m happy to have it around.
Franz is free and will let you use up to 3 services. To use more, you’ll need to pay a monthly or yearly subscription. You can check it out here: meetfranz.com/
This one is a little more personal to my work than some of the others. In my lines of work, whether it’s with the site and channel or while working hands-on with machines, I sometimes need to get some information about the model machines and what they’re capable of. Everything from RAM capacities, OS support, etc. The app that I’ve found to be most helpful has been Ian Page’s fantasic Mactracker. It gives me information about the default configurations of machines, when they were released, support status of different model, what versions of Mac OS they came with, how far they can be upgraded, and so much more. But it’s not just Macs either, but nearly every Apple product released from AirPods to iPhones to Apple TVs to even printers (yes Apple once made printers). It is so useful in my Apple specific work, my only regret is that I can’t find a way to even donate the developer money as a thank you for making such a useful free app.
I’ll be honest, this one seemed a little cliche to put, and I really thought about putting another app to put instead (and there were several). But at the end of the day, I couldn’t be honest by not including it. The tool has had a bunch of hiccups from Zoom-bombing to questions about encryption, but to Zoom’s credit they suddenly had a huge influx of business that they rapidly had to meet, and it’s clear they worked pretty rapidly to meet the challenge. So while I can’t say I’m in love with the app or have as much to praise as the other apps in this list, I really appreciate their work to help keep classes, meetings, and all the other stuff of our lives going in this crazy time.