I’m a journalist, blogger and photographer, and since I’m stuck in isolation for the foreseeable future, I figured I’d share some of the apps I use every day and honestly can’t live without.
They might not be the most exciting programs and utilities, but they are all incredibly powerful and have changed the way I work.
I will note that because I live in Apple’s ecosystem, many of these apps are not available on PC. However, wherever possible, I’ve included a link to an equivalent app.
If you write a lot of content, then you may have discovered that Microsoft Word, while great for basic desktop publishing, isn’t the best option out there — the same goes for Google Docs. That’s where Ulysses comes in.
Unlike Word, which is a compromise between word processing and desktop publishing, Ulysses is designed for people who write for a living. This is seriously the best app for writers I’ve ever used.
Ulysses uses markdown for formatting, which uses inline characters to format text. For example, if you wanted to bold or italicize something you would simply type __bold__ or _italic_.
Markdown can certainly take some time to get used to, but once you get the hang of it, it’s much faster than manually applying formatting to your document. Especially for things that don’t already have a convenient shortcut. Your hands literally never have to leave the keyboard.
Perhaps more importantly, every project I start in Ulysses is synced with iCloud and searchable from within the app.
However, all of this comes at a price. At around $40 a year, it might not be the best option for writers on a budget, especially considering you can get a full Office 365 subscription for not a whole lot more.
A great alternative that I’ve used from time to time is IA Writer, which, unlike Ulysses, is available on PC too.
IA Writer packs a lot of the same functionality as Ulysses, though it lacks many of the more powerful productivity features. If you can get by without them, IA Writer is a great alternative that can be purchased for a one-time fee.
The Apple Pencil for the iPad Pro has changed the way I work.
I’m a pretty hands-on kind of guy when it comes to writing. I prefer to edit stories or mark up my notes by hand. I used to go through reams of paper every month. It certainly wasn’t the most economic or environmentally friendly habit.
All of that changed when a colleague lent me his Apple Pencil to try for a few days. After testing out about half a dozen notetaking apps for the iPad, I settled on Goodnotes.
Goodnotes might not be the most exciting app out there but offers some distinct advantages over competing apps like Notability or even Apple’s own Notes app.
As notes apps for the iPad go, Goodnotes sticks to the basics, providing you with a variety of templates including grid paper, legal-pad style sheets and it can even be used as a planner. Plus, if you can’t find a template that fits your needs you can import your own.
The thing I like most about Goodnotes was how it organizes notes. I read through a lot of press releases, reports, transcripts, and blog posts to fuel my stories, and the ability to import these directly into one notebook is game-changing.
For marking up notes, I really appreciate that, by default, pages flip horizontally, just like an actual notebook. It might not sound like much, but it’s much easier to mark up large documents when the page isn’t scrolling every time you rest your palm on the screen. For taking notes, I usually switch this back to vertical scrolling, which allows me to keep my hand positioned roughly in the page position.
Seriously, if you need to mark up a lot of documents and have an iPad and an Apple Pencil, I can’t recommend Goodnotes enough.
Anyone doing interviews on a regular basis will appreciate how time-consuming transcribing your notes can be. A half-hour interview can take two or more hours just to type up.
And as someone who’s used to working on tight deadlines, this can be particularly challenging. A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon Otter.AI.
Otter works a lot like any other audio recorder, except it’s using AI and cloud computing to transcribe your recording in real time. You can even import external audio and have it transcribed in a matter of minutes.
And since Otter uses AI running in the cloud, the quality of the transcriptions are always getting better. It will even automatically detect when someone else starts talking.
A free account will nab you 600 minutes a month of record time, which thankfully is more than enough for me.
If you haven’t checked out Otter, it’s definitely worth a try.
Lightroom (Classic & CC)
When it comes to managing large photo libraries, it’s hard to beat Lightroom.
I’ve been using Lightroom since version 4.0 was released in 2012, but it wasn’t until I started shooting large volumes of photos in 2015 that I really started to appreciate its potential.
Lightroom Classic combines a truly impressive suite of cataloging features, perfect for culling through thousands of photos, with a powerful raw workflow that’s built for volume edits.
Lightroom Classic’s little brother Lightroom CC is another story. The cloud-based version of Lightroom offers a lot of advantages including better performance and an updated interface that I vastly prefer. But while Adobe has slowly moved toward feature parody, Lightroom CC still isn’t perfect.
That’s not to say Lightroom CC is bad. If you don’t need some of Lightroom Classics more advanced features, Lightroom CC is a great alternative that’s even available for iPad and mobile.
When it comes to photo manipulation and illustration, Photoshop is hard to beat, but it’s also expensive and slow. That’s why for a lot of basic edits and corrections I find myself using Pixelmator instead.
Pixelmator has been around for a couple of years now in one version or another. Pixelmator Photo for the iPad and Pixelmator Pro for Mac OS are both great, but I’m talking about the original version.
If you’ve ever dabbled in Photoshop, especially older versions like CS3, you’ll feel right at home with Pixelmator.
It’s perfect for quick edits, transformations, and lite vector work. In fact, I’ve designed quite a few graphics in Pixelmator over the years, including the original Adventure Bent logo.
At around $30 in the Apple App store, Pixelmator is one of the best photoshop alternatives around.
Back in the day, VSCO was best known for its film emulation presets. Today, the company has taken those presets and built a social network and mobile app around them.
If you shoot most of your photos on your phone or use a WiFi-equipped camera, VSCO is one of the fastest and easiest ways to give your images a unique look.
VSCO is also one of the least expensive options out there. At about $20 a year, you get access to more than 200 presets. However, if all you’re looking for is a dead-simple photo editor and don’t need VSCO’s full catalog of presets, you can probably get by with a free account.
The one utility that I simply can’t live without is a password manager.
There are tons of them out there, Dashlane and LastPass are popular, but I’ve been using 1Password for years and couldn’t be happier.
1Password lets you use super secure passwords for each of your hundreds of log-ins without having to remember them all. Anytime you need to log-in you simply enter your 1Password passphrase and it’ll automatically fill your username and password for you. Plus, if you’ve got a fingerprint scanner or have an Apple Face ID-enabled device, you’ll never have to type a password again.
In fact, I’m actually using an older version of 1Password that I purchased a lifetime license for a while back. The company has since moved to a subscription model, but it’s still pretty affordable.
1Password starts at $2.99 a month for a personal account or $4.99 a month for a family of up to five. There are even team and business accounts available too.
ChronoSync probably isn’t an app that most people will have heard of before, but if you need to keep large quantities of images synced across multiple computers or hard drives, then it’s one of the best options out there.
I discovered Chronosync after my dog decided it was a good idea to eat a 256GB memory card filled with photos that I hadn’t gotten around to backing up. Within five minutes, years of photos were gone.
Chronosync can be used for all kinds of things, but I primarily use it to keep my Lightroom catalog synced between two hard drives for redundancy. That way if one drive failed or became corrupted, I wouldn’t lose all my photos.
And that actually happened late last month when my portable drive became corrupted and needed to be reformatted — curse you ExFat.
Thankfully all of my files were backed up, and I was able to use Chronosync to restore all the data back to the drive.
Oh and lesson learned here, never use ExFat on portable hard drives.
If you’re interested in learning more about how I use ChronoSync to keep my drives backed up, you can read all about it here.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below:
- Do you use any of these apps?
- What are the apps you can’t live without?
- Have you tried markdown?
- Are you a Lightroom user or do you use another app?
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