2021 has finally come to a close, and there have been more than a few ups and downs over the past year. But one area where we continue to see growth is in the App Store, and that trend continues now that the M1, M1 Pro, and M1 Max chipsets are capable of running some iOS apps. Every month, we’ve taken a look at some of the best apps for both iOS and macOS, but today, we’re taking a look at our favorite apps and games for 2021.
- The Best Apps and Games Of 2021, According to Apple
- The Best iOS Apps and macOS Apps: December 2021
- Best Apps for iOS 15 and iPadOS 15
- Best Mac Apps That Support Shortcuts With macOS Monterey
- The Best Apps To Hide the Notch on the MacBook Pro
- Best Apps Overall
- Best iPhone Apps of the Year
- Best Mac Apps of the Year
- Best iPhone and iPad Games of the Year
- Best Mac Games of the Year
- What Are Your Favorite Apps and Games?
Best Apps Overall
Drafts is an invaluable tool, and has been for years. The app’s tagline is “where text starts”, and we don’t know if there’s a better tagline for any app out there. Not only is Drafts available on all of your Apple devices, but you can now theme the app to look exactly how you want. Going even farther, there is a slew of automation features that you can take advantage of. Drafts can be one of the most complex text editors or one of the simplest text editors on your device.
There are task management and to-do apps on the App Store that are functionally better than what you find with Things 3. But where this app gains an edge over the competition is in its design. Things 3 holds the concept of GTD near and dear and looks absolutely amazing while helping you keep track of those projects and to-dos.
Although Twitter tried to kill all third-party apps, Tweetbot continues trucking along like nothing happened. This is easily the best third-party Twitter client, and the developers provide regular updates with new features and bug fixes. Tweetbot 6 introduces interface themes, along with the ability to automatically open links in Chrome or Firefox if you are using the macOS version.
If you just want an app to track and organize different lists, then you might be hard-pressed to find an app better than Sofa. The app was updated to version 3.0 this year, and you can save a slew of different types of lists. This includes things like music, podcasts, movies, video games, and pretty much anything else that you can think of. Plus, the app is beautifully designed and easily stands out as one of the best apps on the App Store.
While Drafts is one of the best note-taking apps out there, Craft takes a different approach. It’s similar to Notion or Roam Research in that it’s a wonderful database application. But Craft offers one of the best designs that we’ve ever seen hit the App Store. Apple actually awarded the developers with the title of “Best Mac App of the Year” in its 2021 App Store Awards.
If you can’t tell by now, we sure do love our note-taking apps here at AppleToolBox. Obsidian is one of those apps that requires a bit of time to truly master, as you can just use it as a simple Markdown editor, or transform it into something completely different. This is done with the ability to download and use plug-ins that come from either Obsidian directly or from the community. It’s an excellent app that everyone should check out.
It’s not that Apple’s own Calendar app is bad. It’s just that Fantastical is that good. Whenever someone asks about the best calendar app for iOS, iPadOS, or macOS, the first thing that has come to mind for years has been Fantastical. Even with the change to a subscription model, Fantastical from Flexibits remains one of the best apps you can use.
After Apple purchased Dark Sky, the worry was that the APIs used by other weather apps like Carrot would be deprecated. That doesn’t seem to be the case, and Apple is only now starting to integrate some of the best Dark Sky features into its own app. But for the foreseeable future, Carrot Weather will remain one of the first apps that we download. Not only is it the snarkiest app on the App Store, but it also gives you all of the weather information that you could need at a glance.
As someone who has followed Marco Arment for years, my excitement levels went through the roof back when Overcast was originally launched. The app remains one of my favorite apps of all time, and is also one of the first apps to install whenever I get a new iPhone or iPad. Podcast management and discovery is great, along with all of the extra tools and settings that you can tweak to improve your podcast listening experience.
Over the course of 2021, chances are that you might have found yourself needing to do some traveling, especially after what happened in 2020. But when it comes to tracking flights, there is no app that does it better than Flighty. In 2021, Flighty v2.0 was released, including a slew of features to greatly improve the flight tracking app, while being able to see precisely where your flight is in the sky. Or you can just use it to see what planes are currently flying overhead.
Best iPhone Apps of the Year
The iPhone already provides incredible photos and videos, and there are a slew of fantastic apps on the App Store to edit everything. However, Pixelmator Photo has been our favorite image editing app on the Mac, and now it’s on the iPhone. This one snuck in right before the end of the year, and includes support for more than 600 different RAW formats, including Apple ProRAW. Plus, you’ll enjoy a myriad of AI-enhanced editing tools, right from your iPhone.
Take all of the great things about the stock Camera app and turn them up to 11. That’s what you get, and then some, with Halide. The developers continue to improve the app with new features, including the ability to take macro photography with older iPhone models that don’t support the feature. If you haven’t tried Halide before, this is one of the “must have” apps for everyone.
Waking up to your normal alarm clock is boring. Even with Apple’s included sleep tracking features to help you wake up, it’s just not enough for some. Sleep Cycle is one of those apps that has been offering sleep tracking for years, and includes plenty of tools to try and make sure you wake up when you’re supposed to. There’s an accompanying Apple Watch app, and you’ll even be able to go back and see how well you’ve been sleeping for as long as you have been using the app.
We’ve covered Widgetsmith before here at AppleToolBox, and it remains one of the best widget creation apps for iPhone and iPad. The app includes plenty of presets to get you started, or you can create your own custom widgets from scratch. Plus, you’ll able to use different themes, while viewing various bits of information including reminders, step-counting, and much more.
Read-it-later services have seen a bit of a resurgence in 2021, and that includes GoodLinks. The app is available on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, making it easy to save articles to read when you have a bit more time. You can also go through and tag saved articles to better organize them, along with offering support for Shortcuts automations.
While GoodLinks offers a more-traditional approach to saving articles to read later, Matter has burst onto the scene in 2021 putting other RiL services on notice. Matter makes it possible to save all of those articles and organize them. However, you can also save things like Twitter threads and even newsletter subscriptions right into the app. Now, you can clean up your email inbox, and just keep everything in Matter.
If we had to pick a shortlist of apps that every iPhone user should download, Apollo for Reddit would easily be on the list. This is simply the best Reddit app that has ever been released, and it’s the one app I miss more than any other if I switch over to an Android phone for a little while. You can customize Apollo’s interface, and there are a slew of fun icons to switch to, many of which have been created by the community. If you use Reddit in any capacity, you’ll need to give Apollo a spin.
As a big football fan, and an even bigger fan of fantasy football, Sleeper has become an invaluable tool. Not only can you receive up-to-the-minute notifications when news breaks, but it can also be used as the home for your fantasy football league. The app includes a bunch of features to improve the communication (read: smack talk) in your league, while offering plenty of control for commissioners.
Best Mac Apps of the Year
The truth is that everyone has a Gmail account, and admittedly, the stock Mail app isn’t the greatest at email management. It’s much better than what we have on the iPhone, but Mimestream has become my favorite email app to manage my different Gmail account. The app was created by a former Apple developer who worked on the Mail app and that’s evident from the first time you go through the setup process.
Even before the notch arrived on the 2021 MacBook Pro models, Bartender has been a wonderful tool for those who want to keep their menu bar clean. Bartender will hide any of the menu bar icons for apps that you don’t want to see. This makes it so you won’t have icons being hidden behind the notch, while adding another to still access those apps if you need them.
Alfred needs little introduction, as it’s arguably the best Spotlight replacement app on the Mac. There’s integration with Shortcuts now that the app has arrived on the Mac. But you can also create a slew of different workflows to help automate tasks without needing to jump through a bunch of hoops. Save time and get more done with the help of Alfred.
Window management on the Mac leaves you feeling a bit lost, especially if you’re coming from a Windows computer. Magnet helps change that, as you can create different zones to place your windows, ensuring that you are maximizing the screen real estate that you have at your disposal. Magnet is a great application and doesn’t require much intuition to get working properly.
While the Mac still has QuickTime pre-installed to handle many of your media playback needs, it’s nowhere near as fully featured as other apps. Enter IINA. Admittedly, this is an app that I had not heard of until recently, but after trying it out, I was sold. Instead of downloading VLC on my 2021 MacBook Pro, I’ve switched to IINA as it offers a design that looks like it was built by the macOS team at Apple.
One of the best features of using Apple’s Magic Keyboard with the iPad is the ability to press-and-hold the CMD key to see a list of available shortcuts. Unfortunately, this is not something that is available on macOS by default. Thankfully, CheatSheet is available and adds the same functionality that you would find on the iPad. Best of all, the app is free to download and will show a list of active keyboard shortcuts based on the app you are currently using.
If you want an app to customize practically every aspect of your Mac, then you’ll need to try out BetterTouchTool. The app features the ability to customize different gestures, keyboard shortcuts, and even the Touch Bar if you have a pre-2021 MacBook Pro. Perhaps the best part is that you’ll also enjoy BetterSnapTool features, making this a great option if you are frustrated with the lack of window management in macOS.
Best iPhone and iPad Games of the Year
Despite being available for more than a year, it’s next to impossible to get your hands on either the Xbox Series X or the Series S. Well, thanks to Xbox Game Pass, you don’t need to worry about shelling out hundreds of dollars just to enjoy Halo Infinite or Forza. Spend $15 per month, fire it up in your browser, and play Halo from the comfort of your iPhone or iPad.
Alto’s Odyssey has been available on the App Store for years, but there’s a new expansion called The Lost City that is available through Apple Arcade. The premise of the game is the same, as you’ll jump off of rolling hills trying to perform tricks and collect coins. But now, there are a few more levels that you can enjoy.
Instead of trying to play a cross-platform multiplayer game from your computer, why not just jump into a session of Among Us? The game continues to be extremely popular, despite being released more than three years ago. And the best part is that Among Us is completely free to play, so sit back and figure out who’s ‘sus’ and who’s not.
Dead Cells is another game that has been available for years, but only recently launched on the iPhone and Android phones. This is a 2D side-scroller game where you need to level-up your characters weapons and complete the various missions. What helps Dead Cells stand out is the fact that you’ll never come across checkpoints, so if your character dies, you’ll have to start the level over again.
If you’ve ever played an open-world RPG like Breath of the Wild then you might enjoy playing Genshin Impact. This might just be the most graphics-intensive game to ever hit the App Store, as you can customize the performance settings in order to get the most out of the game. Genshin Impact was also one of the first games to be updated with support for the iPhone 13 Pro’s ProMotion display with a 120Hz refresh rate.
Best Mac Games of the Year
The Mac is not exactly well-known for supporting AAA gaming titles, but early in 2021, Metro Exodus made its way to macOS and Linux. This is the third-installment in the Metro Trilogy, allowing you to discover the post-apocalyptic Russian environments. Not only does Metro Exodus look incredible, but the game is also supported on M1 Macs thanks to Rosetta 2.
Firewatch might just be the most relaxing game to play on the Mac, and while it’s been available for years, it’s still a great experience on the Mac. The game is set in the Wyoming wilderness, as you’ll need to solve a few different mysteries. But you’ll likely find yourself sitting back and enjoying the incredible graphics offered in the different cut-scenes.
Deck-building games are seeing a resurgence in popularity, and Slay the Spire is the latest example of why. The game is easy to pick up, difficult to master, while being available for download on pretty much every platform imaginable. Every round you’ll find a different path to go on, while being able to discover hundreds of different cards to add to your deck.
What Are Your Favorite Apps and Games?
With so many great apps and games at our disposal, we know that we missed some of the best. Let us know in the comments below what your favorite apps and games were, and why they should be included on this list! We’ll be sure to check them all out and maybe they’ll make one of the “best of 2022” lists over the next year.
Andrew is a freelance writer based on the East Coast of the US.
He has written for a variety of sites over the years, including iMore, Android Central, Phandroid, and a few others. Now, he spends his days working for an HVAC company, while moonlighting as a freelance writer at night.