In November, Apple took the computer world by surprise, launching a new RISC-based computer chip, dubbed “Apple Silicon,” that set new performance and compatibility standards. Using the same microprocessor architecture Apple developed for the iPhone, the M1 MacBook and MacBook Air run cool and boast long battery life, all very desirable laptop features.
What is most remarkable about this radical change in architecture is the smooth application transition Apple offers. The company created a software conversion utility, called Rosetta 2, which enables a Mac with Apple Silicon to use apps designed for a Mac with an Intel processor.
When you start an Intel application, Rosetta 2 will convert the app in realtime and seamlessly make it M1 compatible, only noticeable by a slight delay the first time the app is used. Apple’s emphasis on a seamless experience shines here.
But it’s the apps that have been optimized for M1 that truly stand out. They’re much faster and more responsive than ever before and rock-solid, most of the time. Safari, Apple’s browser, is a notable exception, it likes to quit whenever it feels like it, but hopefully, Apple will fix that soon.
The press unanimously raves about the M1 experience. Whether reviewing a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, or Mac Mini, the consensus is that Apple lived up to the June Worldwide Developers Conference’s claims when it unveiled Apple Silicon. Underpromising and overdelivering is rare in the technology industry.
Recommended M1 Apps
Those of you who have followed my various excursions into app reviews, including “100 Mac Applications We Can’t Live Without” and the Toolhacker website, know I’m passionate about innovative tools.
The M1 has reset my expectations. For my loaded M1 MacBook, equipped with 16GB RAM and a 2TB SSD, I decided that good enough was no longer sufficient and initially only sought out apps that were M1 compatible. In Apple parlance, that means the app is either “Universal” — it runs on both M1 and Intel-based Macs, or “Apple Silicon” only. There is one other compatible category of M1 software, “iOS” apps, including Notion and VLC, labeled as such.
The immediate result is that my list of recommended apps has shrunk significantly to 40 universal apps plus 23 urgently needed Intel apps. That fits with my 2021 strategy of simplification. Getting rid of unnecessary clutter and bloat is paramount in the years ahead. However, you can expect that over time the list of apps will grow, but right now, software developers must optimize their applications for the M1 and Big Sur macOS.
It’s also fascinating to compare how software applications have changed over time. The new list pays tribute to our new work-from-home (WFH) trend, with such apps as HandMirror — to check your appearance before video conferencing, and, of course, Zoom itself.
It’s also notable that Zoom, which has been accused of sharing user data with the Chinese government and sends some of its traffic through servers located in China, is the only “Apple Silicon” app. “Why do you have such an optimized tool, Big Bad Wolf?” asked Little Red Riding Hood. “To better spy on you with,” said the Big Bad Wolf.
Another application trend is the growing emphasis on authoring applications. The Mac is already known as the platform of choice for creators. This has only grown in the past six years since the original “100 Mac Applications We Can’t Live Without” was published. New on the list are apps that either didn’t exist then or were not on my radar, including Day One — a journaling/note-taking app, Grammarly, Ludwig — a handy writing utility that checks your choice of words against a database of written snippets, Vellum — for Amazon Kindle publishers, and Whisk — a cool realtime HTML editing tool.
Social media apps are another forté of the Mac. I’m sure you have heard all the buzz about Clubhouse, a voice-based social media app that runs only on the iPhone. It’s a cross between talk radio, CB radio, and the world of podcasting, which was also conceived initially on the Mac.
Among a new cadre of social media tools are Discord, Signal, Tweetdeck, and WhatsApp. I did not reinstall Skype and Telegram since those apps appear to have lost currency. Another major category of apps are notes apps. As a researcher, I’m on an endless quest to find the best note-taking and -saving apps. My list now includes Bear, Day One, Evernote Legacy, and Microsoft OneNote.
This list does not include the dozen or so applications Apple provides for free, including GarageBand, Keynote, Numbers, News, Notes, Pages, Reminders, etc. Besides also using Notes as a quick-and-dirty personal notes app, it’s clear that Reminders has grown so much in power that it has become a capable to-do list manager. Since most calendaring and to-do apps, like Things, end up integrating Reminders, it’s a great tool to keep things simple, so to speak. While Things is a universal app, it costs $50, so I’m helping you save money too.
Here’s the list of 63 applications my M1 MacBook can’t live without: