My Ultimate Developer and Power Users Tool List for macOS Sierra (2017 Edition)

This is the latest installment of my must have must have list of tools and utilities as a macOS and iOS developer. The idea for this list was shamelessly ripped off from Windows developer Scott Hanselman whose list has long been an enjoyable read when he updates it.

There have been significant changes since I last did one of these. I’ve tried to mark anything new in bold.


Since I last updated this in 2013, my hardware has changed significantly.

I am still maintaining a dual Mac setup. My daily driver is a Late 2015 27" Retina 5K iMac with a 1TB SSD and 32GB of RAM. After nearly five years, I replaced my old 2010 iMac that was starting to show its age when compiling Swift. Swift eats hardware for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and fourth meal. I’d say this was Apple’s genius plan to sell more Mac hardware, but they can’t be bothered to update their hardware lineup regularly so there went that theory.

At home I am using my 15" Retina MacBook Pro with a 1TB SSD and 16GB of RAM. This is one of the new Touch Bar models and it’s fine. I somehow have been able to survive without a physical escape key or a row of function keys. I assume this makes me lose some sort of geek cred. Sorry, nerds.

I used to be a big Dropbox user, but I’ve moved all of my files over to iCloud Drive because it’s good enough. I take advantage of the Shared Desktop and Shared Documents functionality of macOS Sierra. Photos are stored in iCloud. Calendar and Contacts too. It works, usually. There wasn’t anything wrong with Dropbox, but it was just another thing I was paying money for that wasn’t super necessary when there’s a good enough alternative baked into the OS now.

In terms of accessories and upgrades:

  • I use a Das Keyboard. I love it. The Das Keyboard doesn't make me a better developer, writer or person. It just feels satisfying to use.
  • On the left side of my iMac I use a Magic Trackpad 2 for swiping and gesturing between full-screen apps and Mission Control. I am a big user of multitouch gestures in Sierra, so I am incredibly comfortable using the trackpad.
  • On the right side of my iMac I use a Logitech MX Master to do all my pointing and clicking. It has more buttons than I have fingers, but somehow I have found a way to map a unique action to each one.
  • Time Machine backups are handled by a 4TB LaCie d2 Thunderbolt 2 drive. It's fairly quiet and is one of the few external drives I've found that doesn't have a horrific design. The blue light has a piece of duct tape over it though because it was distracting.
  • I connect to the Internet through my Netgear Nighthawk X8. It has four giant antennas on the back and looks like it may take off at any point. I am interested in trying something like Eero in the future, but for now the Nighthawk works.


I am really hard on software. This is for a variety of reasons, but I think it is because I build it myself. I have always envisioned that directors and actors can sometimes lose focus during a movie as they judge the decisions others made in their productions. I feel like I do the same thing with software. I loathe poor and/or non-native user interfaces and cherish simple tools. These are applications I constantly rely on.

The Essential Five

  • Dash - I know Apple keeps trying to improve the documentation viewer that ships with Xcode, but I am still a loyal Dash user. Not only does it work with Apple’s documentation, but having other languages I may be using accessible as well is a big win.
  • 1Password - One of the first tools I install. I store not only passwords, but also things like Amazon access keys, SSH credentials, and a variety of other things I need to secure with 1Password. Hopefully it’s more secure than the DNC email servers.
  • OmniFocus - I don't know how I ever stayed organized before OmniFocus on my three screens. It's my brain. With my work tasks, I tend to take what I am currently working on and break it down into separate OmniFocus projects that I can focus on as a daily task. It’s easier than tracking everything in Asana or whatever bug reporter of the week my clients are interested in.
  • Atom - The last time I wrote one of these posts, I was a devout Sublime Text user. Before that I was a BBEdit user. Now? Atom from GitHub. I use Atom for any non-Xcode related development tasks I have as well as looking at log files and other random bits of text.
  • Tower - I can use Git via the command line if I have to, but I don’t see any reason to when there’s a powerful app like Tower there to do hide all the weirdness from me. I probably use this app more than any other third-party app on my Mac.

Developer Tools

  • Xcode - If you write macOS, iOS, tvOS, or watchOS applications, you spend most of your life in Xcode and Instruments. I am no different.
  • Appfigures - Manually fetching iTunes sales reports is tedious. Appfigures is a low-cost Web service that will import your reports and send you a daily sales email. I also like to funnel our reviews into a Slack channel so we are more aware of what users are saying.
  • Base - Core Data generates a SQLite database under the hood. I'm constantly inspecting the database contents using this application. It's lightweight and easy to use.
  • Charles - Sometimes I want to snoop the traffic that is going through an iPhone app. Setting up Charles makes it pretty easy to do just that.
  • Color Picker: Must have. Choose whatever color you want and then it will output a UIColor or NSColor for you.
  • Git: I am now exclusively on Git for version control. Thanks, GitHub.
  • HockeyApp - I am using Hockey for handling crash reports. Microsoft bought them a few years ago and continues to improve the service with other features, but I find the crash reporting to be the only indispensable function. At least until I can learn to trust iTunes Connect.
  • Hyper - I am using more Electron apps by the year it seems. Hyper is a replacement for Terminal built on Electron. I don’t do anything special with it over the bundled Terminal app. I just like how it looks. I am such a Mac user.
  • Kaleidoscope - I have never been a fan of the bundled merging tools with Xcode. Kaleidoscope is vital to my workflow when running diffs on my Git commits. It’s too bad this is seemingly abandonware. It’s a great app that I plan to keep using until it no longer launches.
  • Patterns: I don't think I will ever fully grasp Regular Expression syntax. Patterns makes it easier for me to fumble around trying to build and test a regex compared to doing sample finds in Sublime Text.
  • QuickRadar - The RadarWeb UI still sucks. QuickRadar makes me more likely to file bugs because it is in my Dock, it can cross-post to OpenRadar, and it has never crashed or lost a bug report while I was trying to submit it.
  • Realm Browser - Core Data is trash. I’d use Realm for every app if I could. Since Realm uses a custom format for its database you need an app to inspect it. For SQLite you use Base. For Realm, you use this.
  • Paw - I keep a Paw document for each API that I interact with so that I can quickly test out API calls to see what the JSON returned is.
  • Sketch - If you work with a designer they are most likely using Sketch. Keeping a copy nearby so you can inspect files is handy. I also use it for my super rudimentary design on this site.
  • Slender - If you're using Xcode I bet you have a few assets in your Xcode project that are no longer in use. Those kilobytes are wasting your customers' bandwidth and yours. Slender analyzes your Xcode project and finds those assets that are no longer in use so you can safely delete them.
  • Slack - If you work for a startup, you are contractually required to use Slack at this point.
  • VS Code - If you take all the disdain I have for Xcode and inverted it, you’d have my affection for Visual Studio Code. A powerful programmer IDE that gets meaningful monthly updates and has a vibrant, useful plugin community? I’m in love.
  • xScope - I use xScope to detect colors on various UI elements, check alignment of controls and to measure the distance between objects. If you (or your designers) are meticulous about your UI, it's an essential utility.

User Tools

  • Acorn - Acorn is my favorite image editor for the Mac. It's fast, intuitive and looks pretty neat too.
  • Backblaze - While I primarily rely on Time Machine for my backups, I also subscribe to Backblaze to offload the contents of my hard drive to the Internet for when I am burglarized for the third time this decade.
  • iStat Menus - Since Swift enjoy eating CPUs for breakfast, I like to have a quick way to see how taxed my system is during compilation. iStat sits in my menu bar and gives me all the essential info I need.
  • OmniOutliner Pro - When I am doing more complex writing projects than a blog post, I outline the entire thing in OmniOutliner. The ability to have drop-down fields is one of my secret weapons. Love that.
  • Pastebot - I never thought I would be one of those clipboard manager people, but Pastebot is so simple that I converted. The ability to sync my clipboard over iCloud is honestly what won me over. It’s like Handoff’s copy/paste support, but reliable.
  • PDF Expert - Preview is a fine PDF viewer, but I’ve come to adore PDF Expert because of its editing capabilities and super easy signing of documents.
  • Rocket - If you’ve adapted to using Slack for throwing emojis out, Slack brings that functionality to your Mac. Now I can easily throw out a 💯without a few keystrokes.
  • Soulver: Soulver is the best calculator app on the planet. There is no debate.
  • The Unarchiver - A file extraction utility is somewhat of an unsung hero, but when you need it, it's good to have a utility that is robust and can fit almost any bill. The Unarchiver does that and does it well.
  • TunnelBear - Since the United States Congress seems keen to allow ISPs to sell all my data without my consent, I tend to run a VPN as much as possible these days. TunnelBear is my preferred one for the last few years. It doesn’t hurt that their branding is adorable.
  • Twitter for Mac - You probably use Tweetbot, but I actually prefer the official Twitter client for desktop tweeting. Sorry to all those offended.
  • Ulysses - I wrote this entire post in Ulysses. In fact, I do most of my writing in Ulysses these days. It’s both a fantastic Mac and iOS app.
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By Justin Williams

This is a two sentence bio. There are many like it, but this one is mine.