App overwhelm and deciding if you need to use a new app

So to keep a long story short my parents were wondering how many apps I had on my iPhone. I checked settings and I have 280 or so apps. My mom’s response was “how on earth could you use so many apps regularly?”. This led to her and I going through all my apps and asking the question “do I use this regularly or not?”. I actually found it was therapeutic to get rid of apps I don’t use. For instance, I had 10 camera apps of which I use 3.

Then I went through other apps. I brought up Drafts and she said: “why can’t you use Notes?”. To her point, I don’t use the export feature that much but I like the design of the app. DEVONthink she felt perplexed by as “just another place I need to search”. I love using Paprika for recipes and she couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t just search or go on the mobile site to a few different recipe sites. I think to her credit she isn’t able to acknowledge why to use an app over a mobile browser nor why one would want to compartmentalize things using an app. Finally, she didn’t see the point in Ulysses as “when I copy and paste things I just right click and say paste special, I don’t need an app for that”. Alas, I think explaining Markdown might be a lost cause.

All said some positives have led to it. She made me realize that I was saving articles to Pocket and never getting to reading them. Similarly, I was sending some things to read to OmniFocus and not getting to them either. I know personally I get overwhelmed so going through projects, getting rid of projects and tasks, and hiding a few is far less overwhelming for me.

My questions aside from this self-reflection is the following:

  1. Do you go through your apps and get rid of ones you don’t use?
  2. When you hear an app recommended how do you decide whether to use it, buy it, or implement it in your workflow?
  3. Does anybody decide against commonly recommended apps such as TextExpander, OmniFocus, Alfred, Keyboard Maestro?

Also random thought, I’m thinking in some cases that unless I do a task regularly or it can be done faster, a workflow (think Keyboard Maestro) might be worth it.

I’m going to tag @Wilson_Ng and @bowline initially to get there thoughts, hope to stimulate some discussion.

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  1. All the time.
  2. Usually I can categorize a new app as yes or no. When I can’t, I look for possible use cases, frequently in this forum, but also outside. Reviews on the App Store can be useful but must be taken with a grain of salt. If that leads me to acquire the new app, so be it; if I’m still on the fence I’ll get a free trial if one exists (I’m doing this with Drafts right now); if there is no free trial I’ll put it on the back burner for a while and revisit it later.
  3. The only one of those apps I have is Keyboard Maestro. I tried TextExpander for a while but I wasn’t using it for anything worthwhile, OmniFocus is waaay overkill for what I need, and Spotlight improved to the point where I felt I didn’t need Alfred any longer.

Some other apps that are frequently mentioned here are Ulysses (I don’t write), Pocket etc (I’m good with Safari Reading List), DevonThink (again, overkill for me), Hazel (ditto), Launchbar (currently on my back burner), and “shelf” apps like Gladys and Yoink (ditto).

  1. I regularly do so for iOS because apps can’t really be hidden. I rarely have done so for macOS. The reason most things are tossed is I go to use them and find out they don’t run anymore on the current version.

  2. When I hear about a new app, I’ll try it if I’m dissatisfied with my current app for the process. Otherwise I won’t waste my time. I seek out new apps if I’m unsatisfied with what I am currently using. I change infrequently so I couldn’t even guess what my most recent acquisition was.

  3. These apps can be so complicated that the learning curve is longer than any time savings. That said I’ve all four you mention, however I don’t use Keyboard Maestro, and could replace TextExpander with Alfred and would if it were the subscription version. Omnifocus I use heavily but only a small subset of its features. But it isn’t worthwhile seeking out something simpler.

Interesting timing for this discussion. As I write this I am waiting for the fresh install of Catalina to complete (nuke and pave due to a technical issue upon advice by Apple support). I made a list of essential apps to download, I 27 listed. In addition Apple’s stock apps., here is the list of apps I’ll download:

  • [ ] 1 Password
  • [ ] Spark
  • [ ] Fantastical
  • [ ] Bartender
  • [ ] Dropbox
  • [ ] MindNode
  • [ ] Scrivener
  • [ ] Hemmingway Editor
  • [ ] Cardhop
  • [ ] PDFExpert
  • [ ] Scan application for scanner (can’t remember the Fujitsu app name)
  • [ ] Copied
  • [ ] Logos
  • [ ] DEVONThink
  • [ ] Google Drive?
  • [ ] Video Downloader
  • [ ] Mac Updater
  • [ ] Drafts
  • [ ] Weather
  • [ ] MS OneDrive
  • [ ] Word
  • [ ] Excel
  • [ ] ExpressVPN
  • [ ] Brave browser
  • [ ] OmniOutliner
  • [ ] Day One
  • [ ] Alfred

There could be one or two more but I doubt it.

  1. I scan my iOS apps every other week or so for anything I can delete. If I come across anything I haven’t used but for whatever reason can’t let go of, I drop it into a folder of “quarantined” apps. I’m not fastidious about clearing that folder, but every now and then I’ll make an effort to delete something from it that I haven’t had any use for, or pick something to grok and make a firm decision about. I use my Mac far less these days, so I keep that pretty sparse and minimal from the get-go. Added (perhaps obvious) benefit there: I’m glad that I can achieve high functionality with a minimal effort if I ever have to set up from scratch.

  2. After years of trialling all the intriguing recommendations that came my way, I’m now much more inclined to be discerning. I’m currently trying to whittle my toolset down to the smallest number of apps that most meaningfully facilitate the way I think/work. What problem does [new app] solve OR what value does it add beyond the toolset I’m already invested in? Is the benefit worth the effort of any required adjustment? Conversely: does [new app] solve a problem that I don’t actually have? Admiration without installation is a viable option! Sometimes I’ll do a quick “pros/cons” analysis or comparison if [new app] might replace or overlaps with something I already use. I try to think workflow first: how do I work, and what are my needs?

  3. Dropped Textexpander around the time I went all in on an iPad as a primary device, having used it religiously for years. I used Things and the precursor to Omnifocus (Kinkless GTD!) in their respective early incarnations before a long stint with Taskpaper— GoodTask currently does me fine. I’ve had KM in the past, but just don’t need it now. Same with Hazel. Great applications, and I’m happy that they exist. They just don’t fit my use case, and that’s okay by me. Still have love for Alfred, though. :wink:

What, if anything, do you use instead of TextExpander?

I ditched TextExpander when it’s switched to a subscription model, and I decided that wasn’t for me.

Since then I setup my snippets in Keyboard Maestro and it actually works better for me than TextExpander did (some snippets that often failed to expand in Spotlight, Finder’s search fields etc. work much better in Keyboard Maestro).

It’s all about FOMO - the Fear of Missing Out.

I usually determine if there are any feature sets that will actually make me want to change apps. More often than not, it’s about FOMO. Am I missing out on anything if I don’t get the new app that is the new darling in the Discourse forums/podcasts/blogs?

I do fall prey to app switching every once in a blue moon. I see a lot of posts/mentions from MPU, The Sweet Setup, and MacStories to give me possible FOMO. MindNode seems to be the mind map darling right now. I already have iThoughts. I did do a demo run with MindNode and found that most (if not all) of my needs were met by iThoughts which I already paid for. The FOMO went away after a month and I’m still with iThoughts.

I also saw FOMO with Things 3 and OmniFocus 3. I find it amusing and maddening when I just follow people on Twitter/YouTube/Facebook/Discourse forums as they hop from Things to OmniFocus back to Things back to OmniFocus to Todoist to 2Do and then to whatever new task manager comes out. Users think that a special UI or UX will change everything. It will to some degree but not as much as we are led to believe. Yeah, there are many things I’d like to see in OmniFocus 3.x but it does 80-90% of what I want to do. No task manager FOMO for me. If I see a workflow in Things 3, I’ll try to see if I can duplicate it or find a workflow that will get the end results I want.

I did an experiment like that with Things 3 vs. OmniFocus 3. TL;DR: I tried Things 3 and experimented with ways to replicate a Things 3 experience in OmniFocus 3.

When it comes to apps, if an app can do 80% of what I need, I’m OK with that. Will I miss a unique feature or UX from a competing app? Sure! But I might not use that feature after all. Or I’ll learn to adapt myself to a new mindset and new workflow.

Here’s an example. I wished OmniFocus had nagging reminders. It has multiple reminder notifications but I prefer nagging reminders to tell me to take out the trash bin every 30 minutes on Wednesday nights until I mark it complete. I use the Due app to take care of that for me.

Feature X might be a selling point for a competing app but I don’t know i it’s enough for me to switch. Do I miss Photoshop? Yep! But Affinity Photos does about 80% of what I need. I’ll figure out another way if I don’t have Photoshop. No more Photoshop FOMO for me.

Developer support is also a must have for me. I prefer OmniFocus as my task manager because I see a vibrant Discourse forum and Slack channel that gets a lot of involvement from end users. I also see the developers sometimes chiming in as well. The Agenda app developers are responsive on their Discourse forums as well. If I see activity on an app developer’s Twitter timeline or Facebook wall, I’m confident that they’re taking in customer input and prioritizing feature requests. Yes, not all my feature requests are high up the wishlist but I’m hopeful to see something get addressed.

Read this post about Launchbar vs. Alfred as an example:

Does a new app have a place in my life? Do I already have an app that takes care of 80% of what I need? I’ve thought about that recently when I was comparing:

  • Things vs OmniFocus
  • MindNode vs iThoughts
  • BusyCal vs Fantastical
  • Affinity Photos vs Pixelmator
  • iA Writer vs Ulysses
  • Launchbar vs Alfred

I’ve tried demos and usually stayed with the app I already purchased previously. The new app that was introduced didn’t have anything big enough for me to change. I think I might change if an app went subscription only. But sometimes an app that does go subscription is important enough for me to accept the new business model.

I don’t worry about missing Feature X, Y, or Z in a new update. Most of these competitors will leapfrog each other and become the new media darling. Everyone was buzzing about Things 3 when it came out in 2017. We couldn’t get enough press coverage about Things 3 and the wonderful new feature set. OmniFocus 3 came out in 2018 and they took the center spotlight for a while as well. They’ll leapfrog each other in terms of feature sets such as task sharing, a web version, email to task manager, Apple Watch version, iPad keyboard interactions, etc. I’m pretty sure Cultured Code and Omni Group will match each other in terms of feature set and introduce a new method. I don’t get FOMO because both companies are capable developers and will respond with something similar. It’s just a matter of patience waiting for the feature request to get fulfilled.

I do like SetApp and the idea of having access to all these awesome apps that I’m tempted to try. But I don’t have a place in my life for most of these apps. I’m not one to get an app and try to find a problem to solve. If I have a problem, I’ll find an app. But I won’t try out an app if I don’t have a problem for it. I might make a note of a new app that is announced in any one of the various Mac Tech podcasts/forums but I won’t play with it until I have a problem I want to solve.

I don’t have a SetApp subscription but it is nice to see developers being able to get a steady income stream from it. It’s just not for me (at least not yet).

FOMO is the worst thing I can have. FOMO appears in social media. What event am I missing if I don’t check my Twitter feed, Facebook wall, or Instagram stream? If it’s important enough, someone will tell me. If I miss it, oh well. I can catch up later or hop on the bandwagon when I’m ready.

FOMO appears in our app selection as well. Am I missing something if I don’t get the Apple Mac App Store App of The Year?

Many of the tech writers’ job is to try out apps and share their discoveries with us, the audience. I’m not getting paid to switch apps or to try new apps. I’m not going to change apps just because a podcaster talked about it for an entire episode. If I have a need for an app, a quick Google search will help me find an app for me. But it’s nice to be aware of new apps. But not enough for me to want to jump bandwagons.

I do enjoy listening to the podcasters talking about an app and helping me discover its feature set. But I won’t immediately download it until I need it. I used to have a lot of .dmg files in my Download folder and apps populating my Applications folder. I think i can get a lot of information now watching a YouTube video or listen to a podcast talking about the new features.

I’m not a podcaster and I’m not paid to try new apps. I’ll leave that to the tech writers and a quick Google search to sort that out for me.

I won’t discard what they have to say. But I am being thoughtful of the apps I use instead of just downloading it and leaving it in my Applications folder. Without podcasters/bloggers, I wouldn’t have discovered a place for Drafts in my life. It did take me a while to find its place but I’m glad I have it.

Be thoughtful about new apps. Does it have a place in your life? Do you already have an app that does 80% of what you need already?


I go briefly through all the apps at least once a quarter. I delete ones I don’t use or at least relegate them to the end and then check again. Some reference apps will stay even if not used just because they are good to have. Like a quickie first aid app on my phone and similar things.

My process starts with the use cases of the people who like it and my guesses at their preferences. If a person loves a writing app because they live and work in markdown then I know it’s not for me. I have never used markdown and every time I look into it I can’t see any reason why I’d use it. Another example, anyone who switches apps because it’s got a pretty design (which seems to always translate into excessively small typefaces, too much white space and strung out display rather than compact) is automatically suspect. I am actually more likely to try something that person hates than one they recommend. Any app that has to have or prefers a cloud system that syncs across all devices is also a bit suspect unless the app in question supports my own syncing solutions like WebDAV or has a way for me to manually sync at my leisure via ChronoSync or even just copy and paste across machines.

I have decided that for me TextExpander is not nearly as good as Typinator. TextExpander continually put in corrections I didn’t want, missed things I did and got in my way. I don’t really understand why but Typinator does much better for me and how I use text expansion systems.

Never used Alfred or Keyboard Maestro at all. Just don’t see a need for them. I compartmentalize my apps to my machines and that changes how I use them and the apps on them.

I had to take a look at Things, commonly recommended as better than Omnifocus, and didn’t even get past entering in a few projects before it just totally grated on me and was painful to use.

I also try not to go looking at apps unless one of 2 things has occurred. I’ve hit a case where my existing apps cannot do the task or it’s painful to do in them and a recommended app solves that case perfectly or a huge number of folks who’s opinions I’ve come to trust says the app is the bees knees.

That alone reduces the number of apps I try.


Every once in a while. But my general tendency is to not install an app unless I’m sure I need to use it, so pruning is rarely necessary.

I must be convinced that it will somehow add value to my life immediately. In the early days of the app store, I would sometimes install an app just because it seemed like something cool that I might want to use some time in the future, but I got out of that practice pretty quickly. If the information I’m getting on that app doesn’t cause me to instantly identify its utility for me, I move on.

I do all the time. What I need and what somebody else likes are two entirely different things. I appreciate thoughtful recommendations, but I don’t have any difficulty assessing my own needs and how to address them.

Maybe it’s because I work in marketing. One of the most powerful ways you can craft a marketing message is to get the people targeted by that message to see themselves in the not-too-distant future being a better version of themselves by using whatever you’re selling. I’ve never had 10(!) camera apps on my phone, but I remember a time when I had more than one, and even though I’ve still never used anything other than the stock camera app, I know the reason I installed the others: I could envision some future version of myself being a better photographer than I was.

After I was able to identify that behavior in myself, installing camera apps became a non-issue.

  1. Just about every week! I’ve been paring down apps for the last few years and trying to focus (as much as possible) on stock apps. “Simplify” is what I keep telling myself.
  2. I try not to listen to recommended apps anymore for the reason stated in #1 “Simplify”. However, like the mosquito who can’t help but head for the light - I‘m a sucker for the promise of “increased productivity”. So, this is an area I’m always working on - realizing I waste a lot of time/energy learning new apps and workflows when I could likely find more efficient ways of using what I already have.
  3. After spending years (and dollars) playing task-manager-pinball, I find I can get 90% achieved through Apples’ Reminders and Notes apps. So, I’ve left the Things and OF bandwagon. I use TextExpander every day on my Mac - but find it inconvenient on iOS with SmartKeyboard Folio. I wonder how others address that?

Thanks - and good luck.

Not regularly. But every once in a while I’ll purge some apps while I’m waiting in line or some other transition that involves waiting. The big purges happen when I decide to reorganize my home screen. That’s when I end up diving into folders that haven’t been opened in decades and see what’s in there.

Sometimes I feel like I hang onto them with this aspirational hope that I’m going to get better at using it, and once I really learn how to use it, I’ll transcend into productivity nirvana.

That’s all fantasy, of course.

I wish I could say I had a rational way of making this decision. Others above have pointed out the aspirational nature of these apps. “Maybe this one has the magic that will finally get me over the hump with blogging consistency”

Apps like that are more utilitarian, like Caffeine or Backblaze or Daisy Disk, I hardly ever buy until a triggering event. I think I bought daisy disk when my hard drive was full. Backblaze when I was about to change computers because of a new job. Caffeine because I was giving more talks.

With one time purchase apps, I was much more likely to buy something I heard/read about because the band-aid ripping nature of it made it easier to just take the hit up front without the mental and emotional baggage that comes with a monthly or yearly hit. Also, I always imagine my wife seeing the apple charges every month slowly increasing over time.

Implementation is generally scattershot. It got to be a problem, especially with notes, as they were spread across a constellation of notes apps. I’m trying to be more thoughtful about the apps that I buy and the apps that I implement. I’m trying to force myself to get ruthless about apps that have been hanging on for years without ever being fully embraced. Especially those that have gone subscription.

I had Keyboard Maestro years ago, but was never able to make much use of it so I didn’t pay for the upgrade when it came along.

I’m giving myself another go at learning Alfred. I’ve been using it forever but never got past using it for things Spotlight does.

Omnifocus has just worked for me over time. No matter how many times I’ve tried to move to something that is more lightweight or shinier, I always come back. I don’t like a lot of things about it, but I’ve surrendered.

The second that I figure out how to do time and date stamps on iOS without TextExpander, that subscription is going to be gone gone gone. I’ve thought about taking it off of iOS just to see if I’m over-estimating how often I actually use it.

I tried PDF pen but it was a usability nightmare for me.

GoodNotes is pretty good. But the recording feature of Notability makes that indispensable as a handwriting app to me.

I’m becoming more and more annoyed with Omnioutliner over time. Templates with text that has to be erased. No URL or shortcut support. No quick capture. Guessing this kind of stuff will be fixable with Omni automation.

Squarespace is lame.

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I have a lot of apps and most of those I don’t use, but my phone has high amount of space so no worries there. The apps I use the most will always be on the first page of a folder and others will be on my home screen.

I occasionally will delete an app.

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I have 20 apps in my macOS dock that I use regularly – daily or as many times a week that it makes sense to have them close. I also have a few apps in the background with menubar presence (1Password, Typinator, KeyboardMaestro, Alfred) that I use daily.

In the past few years my interest in new apps has diminished steadily. I still like to download trials and experiment, but rarely end up buying. I don’t know if it’s me or the market, but there seems to be fewer and fewer interesting new titles in recent years – software that I can honestly think “that’s an interesting concept and fills a real gap”. Increasingly, it seems the era of compelling, creative software development is long past.

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I mostly have stock apps except for Things 3, Overcast & Castro. Some banking apps, Kindle/Audible and that’s about it.

I can’t even remember that the last time I got an app from the App Store merely by browsing the App Store.

Most of my purchases and downloads come from recommendations and that too and few and far in between.

I never do that, well almost. Usually a fresh install is the time to reconsider the apps, since I have to download them again.

Experience thought me to be very conservative in that: read the recommendation (and consider who is recommending it), read trough app features and do some research, and If somehow is interesting to me I download (well, if it does not cost a lot of money) and try it.

I find that nowadays very few new apps reach the “download and try” status, partially because I have a pretty consolidated workflow right now, and I have tried a lot of the usual sospects, so already made a lot of decisions.

I try to decide if something is useful to me, not in favour or agains a recommendation

  1. I do. I really dislike having lots of unused apps filling up space. I´d love to simply have a one home screen worth of apps, but the nerd in me prevents me from doing it.

  2. Like some of us, I try to further explore what are its features. If it’s worth it, something will click, and it’ll make sense to try it out. If it’s just app-rush, I’ll feel somewhat conflicted about it and try to wait it out. After waiting, the rush is over and the “need” for a new app is resolved.

  3. Of all the apps you mentioned the only I don’t use is TextExpander. I find it useful, but Keyboard Maestro does an excellent job expanding text for my uses (and doesn’t require a subscription).

Regarding your random thought, Keyboard Maestro truly is a jack of all trades as far as automation and efficiency goes.

Currently trying to decide if Keyboard Maestro plays into my life. I use and love TextExpander but might be able to accomplish it with keyboard text replacements. I use OmniFocus but it’s very paired down to not get overwhelming.

Love your “quarantined apps” folder idea. Great idea. I just went through my Mac and uninstalled apps I don’t use.

This is a really good mindset and strategy to think of.

Often it’s the effect of moving to something new that works for a bit but ultimately won’t fix your procrastination! Sometimes I even open up a text file, throw my OmniFocus tasks for the day into it and check things off that way. Did that a lot in college.

I have to keep this in mind. For example, the hosts of MPU are amazing both as hosts and people, that said they find the ability to use a ton of apps sometimes for niche purposes. Even if we call ourselves Mac Power Users we do reach a limit. If a new app like you said earlier fixes a problem I have then it could be worth installing but also waiting on.

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Good point about people’s preferences. I do use Markdown for formatting stuff but I suppose I could do without it. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for good UI, I think the first step is admitting a problem. Interesting take on syncing. I’d imagine because if the cloud system goes down your screwed vs with your own system right?

I’ll check out Typinator as a TextExpander alternative. Given all the things you do and the juggling you do I’m shocked but can’t help but smile that you don’t use Keyboard Maestro or Alfred. Makes me think if it really is needed or if I enjoy them for one feature that can be done by another app (default hopefully).

I’ll be honest as much as I love MPU this podcast has made me download apps I probably don’t need and I’m starting to realize how overwhemling it was.