As the end of the calendar year nears, Macworld editors have been busy picking our favorite products of 2013. A couple weeks ago, we presented our Macworld Editors’ Choice awards to the best overall Mac- and Apple-focused products. But here in the Mac Gems department, we also like to separately recognize the best inexpensive Mac apps we’ve reviewed over the past year.
As the editor who coordinates the Mac Gems section, and who spends lots of time searching for great, inexpensive Mac software, I see a lot of Mac apps each year. While our Eddy-award winners are anointed after a weeks-long process of deliberation involved the entire Macworld editorial staff, the Gems of the year are my personal picks. These aren’t necessarily the highest-rated Gems of the past year—they’re the apps we’ve covered in Mac Gems that either did something especially innovative; offered exceptional value; or simply earned a place in my (or another editor’s) daily workflows. Here are 13 apps you should take a look at to see if they’ll fit in—and improve—your routines.
Every year, one or more Gems is so good that my fellow editors and I choose these apps for our highest honor: an Editors’ Choice award. This year, an unprecedented five Mac Gems also earned Eddy awards.
nvAlt 2 (; free; website): It’s not tough to find an inexpensive text-editing or note-taking app for OS X. What makes nvAlt stand out is that the app makes it dead simple to create and search plain-text notes. Launch the app, and you see two fields: a unified text field on top for naming new notes or searching old ones, and a text-entry field below for entering and editing your notes—you just start typing. Searching is fast, the app lets you quickly send notes to other text editors, and your data syncs via Simplenote or Dropbox.
Highland (; $30; website): Many script-writing apps are essentially glorified word processors with unnecessary features removed or hidden. Highland takes the opposite approach: It’s a minimalist text editor with just the features a screenwriter needs. Highland uses the Fountain syntax to store formatted scripts in plain-text files, and it can even import text-based PDF and FDX (Final Draft) files and translate them into Fountain text with the original formatting intact. The interface is clean and uncluttered, and when you need to collaborate, you can export to those same formats.
These Gems were also favorites in previous years, but they saw updates in 2013 that were significant enough that we reviewed them again—and remembered how great they are.
LaunchBar 5.5 (; $35; website): When it comes to app-launching, file-managing, data-accessing, do-everything utilities, LaunchBar is a favorite around the Macworld offices—particularly in my office. You just press your designated keyboard shortcut (I use Command+Space), type a few letters of the thing you want to open or the task you want to perform, and then press return to perform that action (or press one of several other keys to perform advanced actions). Version 5.5 made LaunchBar significantly better thanks to some great new features, including saving and pasting snippets of frequently used text; Automator-workflow integration; iCloud access for opening documents; and integration with OS X’s sharing features.
The other favorites
Alfred 2 (; base app, free; Powerpack, £17; website): A good number of Macworld editors are LaunchBar users, but Alfred is creating some converts, especially with version 2. While this app-launching and file-opening utility doesn’t do as much as LaunchBar, many find it to be easier to use, and with version 2, the developer has added a new feature called workflows that lets you perform series of actions.
ReadKit 2 (; $5; website): When Google Reader closed up shop, many RSS fans scrambled to find both a new RSS-sync service and a new RSS reader. While a slew of good services have since sprung up, ReadKit 2 has become the RSS reader of choice for many Mac users. It looks a lot like the popular Reeder for Mac, but it has more features, it offers lots of customization options, and it supports the Feedly, Fever, NewsBlur, Feed Wrangler, and Feedbin services. (You can also use ReadKit to subscribe to RSS feeds directly.) What’s more, ReadKit is also a nice Mac client for Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, Pinboard, and Delicious, making it easy to read all those articles you saved for later. For those who don’t need all the advanced features of NetNewsWire—or who are just tired of waiting for NetNewsWire 4—ReadKit is my pick.
Winclone 4.2 (; $30; website): If you use OS X’s Boot Camp feature for running Windows on your Mac, you need Winclone. This utility can create a disk image of your Mac’s Boot Camp partition, making it easy to back up that partition, restore it from a backup, or transfer it to another Mac. You can even use Winclone 4 to resize an existing Boot Camp partition, clone an actual Windows PC to a disk image for later restoring, or migrate an actual Windows PC directly to a Boot Camp partition on your Mac.