Today, we’re going to be discussing one of my favorite types of Mac apps: Apps that are designed for Mac customization.
We’re going to be covering several apps in this post, mostly because these are all apps that I love. I’ve gone out of my way to pull together some of the best and most powerful apps for your Mac. By using these, you can truly make your Mac your own and “hack” it to function the way you want it to.
What does “Mac customization” mean?
Before we get into our actual list of apps, I did want to take a second and explain what I mean by Mac customization. No, I don’t mean changing the wallpaper on your Mac or using different accent colors throughout the system. We’re mostly going to be ignoring aesthetic customization.
Instead, I’m going to be focusing on apps that essentially allow you to “hack” your Mac. Apps that help you automate tasks, change default behaviors, personalize your MenuBar and Dock, change the way you manage files, and replace default features and functions of your Mac.
In other words, these apps are going to help you change the way you use your Mac in big and small ways. Some of these are going to take months for you to get the hang of, while others are just simple utilities you can install and then forget about.
The best apps for Mac customization
Alright, now that you have an idea of what we mean by Mac customization, it’s time to dive into the apps that make up this post.
Technically, I don’t use all of these apps. That would make me a bit of a madman, I think. I do, however, use 11 of the apps in this post, and most of those 11 are apps I use several times a day. So you can rest assured that these are great, practical apps that you will find yourself using often.
And, as always, I am not affiliated with any of these apps in any way. These are my honest opinions and thoughts.
If you’ve read any of my posts here at AppleToolBox, then you’ve probably heard me mention Keyboard Maestro before. This app is truly my favorite app of all time, on any platform. In fact, my only real complaint with Keyboard Maestro is that it isn’t available on more devices.
For those that aren’t familiar with Keyboard Maestro, it’s an app that allows you to automate tasks on your Mac. Kind of like the default Shortcuts app from Apple, but much, much, much more powerful.
You can use Keyboard Maestro to write and execute code, control your mouse and keyboard, create multiple clipboards, keep track of a database, change the default behaviors of apps, design your own keyboard shortcuts, and infinitely more.
Seriously, I wouldn’t be half as productive as I am now without this app. It’s completely changed the way I work on my Mac, and it’s done more to lock me into using a Mac than anything else. The only reason I haven’t switched to using an iPad Pro instead of a MacBook is that Keyboard Maestro is only available on Mac.
Get it, get it, get it, GET IT! I can’t be any more clear, if you aren’t using Keyboard Maestro, you need to start using it straightaway.
Here’s a good place to start if you are looking to become a Keyboard Maestro user.
Next up on our Mac customization journey is Dockey. Dockey is a much simpler app than Keyboard Maestro. In short, Dockey allows you to customize the behavior of your Mac’s Dock.
To be clear, you can already change your Dock up a bit by digging around in System Preferences. However, Dockey makes it easier to fine-tune the behavior of your Dock.
For instance, you can change how fast or slow the animation for your Dock appearing is (or turn the animation off altogether), move your Dock from the bottom of the screen to the sides, and choose a delay for when the show/hide animation takes place.
Now, if you just have an always-visible Dock that you hardly interact with, then you might not find this feature all that useful. I, however, like to keep my Dock hidden, and Dockey allows me to have more control over when and where I encounter the Dock.
Another super simple app for Mac customization is PetBar. And I’ll be honest, this is the most cosmetic suggestion in this list, though it does technically have a purpose.
PetBar is a Menu Bar utility that adds a little sleeping pet to your Menu Bar. You can choose from animals like a cat, dog, fish, hedgehog, owl, bear, and more.
The pet you choose just sits in your Menu Bar with a little animation of them sleeping. This isn’t only super cute, however! You can also use this pet to set timers, reminders, and show yourself notes while you work. It’s essentially a type of Pomodoro timer, only cute and more fun.
That’s all it does! It might sound small but this has become a staple of all of my Macs, I love seeing my cat snoozing in the top-right of my screen while I work.
The next great app for Mac customization that we have to bring you is BetterTouchTool. Like Keyboard Maestro, this is a pretty robust offering, performing a lot of functions and automated routines for you. This is for those who really want to dive in and start hacking their Mac.
All BetterTouchTool really does is link actions that you choose to trackpad gestures. For instance, you can map the gesture of swiping down with three fingers on your trackpad to taking a screenshot. Or you can use it to open a specific app, reopen an app you just closed, and much more.
In other words, BetterTouchTool is for creating simple macros on your Mac. Just like you can use keyboard shortcuts to automate or activate certain features of your Mac, BTT allows you to do the same thing with your trackpad or Magic Mouse.
It’s not free, and I do think BetterTouchTool becomes a little redundant when paired with other apps. For instance, I don’t use this app much because I prefer Keyboard Maestro. However, I also know people who feel the opposite. They’ve set up Keyboard Maestro and BetterTouchTool to work together, so that certain gestures activates macros in Keyboard Maestro.
Like most of the apps in this list, it comes down to your own creativity!
Perhaps the simplest app I’m going to be mentioning in this post is Magnet. Magnet is an app that hardly needs an introduction. It was the first app I installed on my new Mac, and I can’t really imagine using a Mac without. It’s a wonder that Apple hasn’t already built Magnet’s functionality into the Mac by default.
For those that don’t know, Magnet helps windows on your Mac snap together. Just like on Windows, all you have to do is move app windows to various areas of your screen, and the window will automatically “snap” into place.
That’s all this app does, but it makes a big difference. Without it, you’re left manually resizing all of your app windows and lining them up just right. Magnet allows you to casually throw them around your screen without missing out on a clean, organized desktop. It’s only $7.99 and totally worth it.
Technically, there are alternatives to Magnet, but I didn’t want to clutter up this post discussing them. Magnet is the go-to for most Mac users, and it’s one that I’ve used. So feel free to look for other options if you like, or you can just grab Magnet like the rest of us.
Next we have another app for Mac customization that utilizes automation. In case you can’t tell, automation is something I’m a pretty big fan of when it comes to Mac usage! It’s not too hard to do yourself, saves a lot of time, and is fun to tinker with.
Hazel stands apart as an automation tool because it only automates one area of your Mac. Specifically, it’s used to automate your Mac’s folders. It can automatically create new folders, remove old ones, organize your files, move files around, and so on.
You can technically do this with other automation apps, like Keyboard Maestro. However, it’s just easier and more effective with Hazel. Because it’s built for this purpose, Hazel is super fast and simple to use. It works with your Mac’s Trash as well, so you can keep that organized, too.
It is pricey, which is one of the reasons I haven’t personally started using Hazel. However, it’s definitely worth it if you have a lot of files to manage.
That brings us to Hidden Bar. Another small yet mighty utility, Hidden Bar is a Menu Bar app. It sits in your Menu Bar and, over time, becomes just another part of the way your Menu Bar functions.
Hidden Bar sits to the very left of your Menu Bar. As more apps, notifications, and other icons start to take up space on your Menu Bar, you can drag them to the left of Hidden Bar.
Whenever you drag an icon to the left of Hidden Bar, Hidden Bar will hide it. To show it, you click the Hidden Bar icon in your Menu Bar. In other words, this is a collapsable Menu Bar item.
This allows you to keep stockpiling Menu Bar utilities without worrying that you won’t be able to access or see some of them. It’s a simple little organizational tool that, once you’ve used it, will be hard to abandon.
Like Magnet, there are a lot of apps that accomplish the same thing as Hidden Bar. So feel free to do your research if you don’t think Hidden Bar is the one for you.
Admittedly, Dropover is a pretty popular app. Even still, I feel like I never see enough people using it. It’s one of those apps that solves a super simple problem on your Mac incredibly well. So well that it becomes impossible to live without once you get used to it.
In essence, Dropover is a “shelf” that holds onto things for you on your Mac. Say you want to move a handful of images from several different folders into a single folder. You can drag each one onto your Dropover shelf, then open the single folder you want to move them to and move them all at once.
Or, maybe you just want to drag a file between apps. You can set it on a Dropover shelf, switch over to the app you want to move it to, then take it off of your Dropover shelf.
If it’s not making sense, then check out some videos or images of Dropover at work! That’ll explain it better than I can with words. You should get the idea pretty quickly. Again, it’s really simple, but once you get used to it, you’ll be addicted.
And Dropover has several other handy features, like file and folder sharing. So while it’s not free, it’s totally worth the investment.
Like Magnet, Alfred is an immensely popular app for Mac, so I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you have already heard of it. But for those who haven’t, or for those who aren’t sold on it yet, here’s a breakdown on what it does.
Alfred is a replacement for the default Spotlight search feature on your Mac. If you use Spotlight a lot, then you’ll probably like Alfred. If you don’t use Spotlight, then you probably won’t use Alfred, either.
But for those who do use Spotlight frequently, Alfred is a great alternative. It does everything that Spotlight does and more. It can be used to view your clipboard history, automate basic actions on your Mac through keywords, serve as a music player, and more.
Basically, it’s a way to quickly bring up a little tool that does a handful of handy actions. I will say, though, that a lot of these extra features are locked behind a paywall of $30-$50, depending on which package you grab.
You can still use it as a better Spotlight replacement for free, which is how I use it. But more advanced features, like the music player and basic automation, will require you to pay for an upgrade.
I’ll also add that while it technically can be used to automate your Mac, it’s extremely limited. So do not get it if that’s the main selling point to you. It’s a neat extra feature, but that’s about it.
Another app that replaces and improves upon a core feature of macOS is Shottr. This is one of my favorite apps for Mac customization, and it’s one I only discovered recently.
First, let me say that I didn’t initially think that macOS screenshots could be improved. They’re already way more robust than on Windows, allowing you screenshot windows, specific sections of the screen, or even record your screen.
But Shottr has definitely proven me wrong. It does everything that the default screenshot function does. On top of that, Shottr also allows you to easily select text in screenshots, remove elements from your screenshots, redact information, measure the space between pixels and elements in the image, and much more.
My personal favorite feature is the ability to quickly remove elements. You just select something, click the button to remove it, and like Photoshop, the app just erases it and fills in the empty space using an algorithm. This is great for my work since I’m constantly taking screenshots that contain personal information from my computer and sharing them with readers like you.
Overall, Shottr is just a faster, better, and more feature-packed way to take screenshots on your Mac. And best of all, it’s completely free.
The next app we’re suggesting for Mac customization is, admittedly, not going to be for everyone. This is for the procrastinators and the easily distracted. If you find yourself going to certain websites or apps while you work on your computer, then SelfControl can help you stay on track.
This incredibly simple app simply blocks whatever you ask it to for an amount of time that you specify. And when you block something, it literally becomes impossible to access it. You can’t unblock it, restart your computer, quit the app, nothing.
Until the timer runs out, whatever you’ve blocked will remain inaccessible. Screen Time, which is built into your Mac, works similarly. However, it can be undone with a passcode, which might not be enough to keep you focused.
I like SelfControl because it is a great way to keep myself off of Reddit or YouTube when I should be focused on work.
The one thing I will say is that SelfControl is not good for permanently blocking access to things. The timer only extends up to 24 hours, so you can’t block anything for longer than that. It’s just for blocking things completely for a short period of time.
Again, I recognize that this won’t be for everyone. But it does fill in a vital function for a lot of people that struggle to focus while working on a computer.
Another simple app for Mac customization is HazeOver. This one does exactly what it sounds like. Whenever you select a window, the other open windows on your Mac’s desktop are “hazed over”. Meaning that they’re dimmed, highlighting the window you have selected.
If you’re someone who uses the desktop of your Mac a lot and frequently has multiple windows open, then you’ll probably get a kick out of HazeOver. You can customize it to get it exactly how you want it.
Once you do, it’ll sit in the background of your Mac, making your experience that much more unique and legible to you. Super helpful for those who can never tell which window is active or who have a hard time focusing on a window when several others are open at the same time.
On the opposite side of simple apps for Mac customization is Hammerspoon. This is probably the most complex app in this list, but as a result, it’s also the most powerful.
I’m going to be comparing this app to Keyboard Maestro, since that’s the app that it’s most like.
If you’ve ever used Keyboard Maestro, then you probably know that you can write and execute code within it. You don’t have to, but if you know how to code, you can do some pretty exciting stuff with Keyboard Maestro.
Well, Hammerspoon is another automation app that only accepts code. It basically allows you to automate actions, tasks, and features on your Mac by connecting these features to the code that you write.
You have to know the programming language Lua to even start using this app. On the homepage for Hammerspoon it provides resources to learning Lua (here). So this one is really for developers looking to hack their Mac a bit.
It’s completely free (the developers don’t even accept tips), open source, and incredibly powerful. You could probably replace every other app in this list with Hammerspoon, if that sounds like a fun project to you.
Personally, I’d recommend using most of the other apps on this list. If you can’t get what you’re looking for from one of them, then I’d dive into Hammerspoon and write the feature you want. Assuming, of course, that you know if enough about programming to do so.
Next up on our list of Mac customization apps is uBar. This is an app that, personally, is not something I would ever be interesting in using. However, I can see a lot of people, especially those who have used Windows, to get a kick out of this one.
uBar is an app that allows you to replace your Mac’s Dock. Like Alfred for Spotlight, uBar is used for the same purpose as and instead of the Dock.
Like Alfred, uBar brings a whole host of new features to your Dock, like progress bars, app statuses, RAM and CPU usage for each app, a clock and calendar, multiple rows instead of a single row, and so on.
You can also use uBar to change the design of your Dock. There’s “Dock” mode, which looks pretty close to the default Dock on your Mac. And there’s a “Task Bar” mode, which mimics the Windows task bar.
Again, this isn’t one that I personally am attracted to. I’m more of a Menu Bar customizer. But if you’re looking to change up and customize your Dock, then uBar is definitely the app for you.
Last but not least on our list of apps for Mac customization is TinkerTool. TinkerTool is an app that I’ve been using and enjoying for a few months now. Though admittedly, it’s an app that I used once and then forgot about – but that’s kind of what it’s for.
Basically, TinkerTool allows you to access settings on your Mac that are either not presented to you or are buried behind some random hotkey combination.
For instance, you can make Hidden Files visible by pressing command + shift + .
Or, you can just find that setting in TinkerTool. There are other settings for changing your font, the Dock and Launchpad, altering the appearance of your Mac, and so on.
To be clear, TinkerTool doesn’t necessarily present any features that are especially groundbreaking for most users. Instead, it just highlights some helpful features that you might not have known existed before. Like I said, I’ve only used it once, but I enjoyed customizing my Mac that much more whenever I used it. If I need to use it again, I will!
Mac customization is made easy with these apps
And that’s it! Those are our picks for the best apps for Mac customization. Customizing your Mac is a great way to make your computer personal and faster. Many of these apps are personal favorites, while others should be able to fill use cases you may have.
Let me know which apps you’re going to try out in the comments below!
For more insights, news, and guides on all things Apple, check out the rest of the AppleToolBox blog.
See you next time!