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Apps by Apple Ecosystem

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Table of contents

tl;dr
I could have titled this
You think you know about the apple ecosystem but you don’t. I spent 100 hours trawling through various settings and options to create this guide just for you.
but that won’t be me, so here you are.

The inbuilt apple apps are pretty good. And for people who do not have specific or complex needs, and use an all apple device setup, should definitely explore using just apple apps for their digital information system.
This post is a work in progress and will be updated sporadically (and often after public beta releases of new OS versions). I’d suggest bookmarking the page rather than saving it to your read-it-later app. This is going to end up being long, and I’ll suggest reading this in parts rather than skimming it over. It isn’t a course (and neither is it paid), but you’d gain much more if you treat it as one.
If you like the content here and want to support me, please buy me a coffee ☕.
I have tried to add screenshots/gifs to every point. Click the ▶ to see that image.
Callouts like these will show extra apps that I use in place of or in conjunction with default apple apps, to enhance their functionality. While I no longer use iOS, you can see a list of my suggested apps here Apps That Caught My Attention.
And these callouts consist of notes, thoughts or extra information about a particular point. They may also be used to answer possible questions that might arise with the use of a particular feature mentioned.

The App List

Apple comes with multiple in-built apps. While some of them have very defined scopes, like Apple Music or Apple Arcade, some of them don’t (like Notes, Reminders). They are easy to get into but hard to experience all features of. Those are the apps we will focus on in this post.
This document is interspersed with personal opinions, and is not just a listing of features, similar to how I did for Google Docs (Google Docs Is Underrated ). I am no longer an apple devices only person (was one for an year), so you will see some comments about how/why/whether the interoperability can matter.
The one “app” we will look at besides these — is the System SettingsShow information for the linked content app. There are some hidden treasures in there, that we should definitely explore! The last thing we will look at is the magic of Show information for the linked content Show information for the linked content or the Show information for the linked content OptionShow information for the linked content keyShow information for the linked content . It changes the context menus so often, that you might miss so many options in the operating system.
Communication
Phone, Messages, FaceTime, Mail, Contacts, Walkie-Talkie
Productivity
NotesShow information for the linked content , Reminders, Calendar, Freeform, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Finder, Files, Shortcuts, Stocks
Entertainment and Home
Apple TV app, Apple Music, Apple Arcade, Apple Music Classical, Apple Podcasts, Apple News, Apple Books, Home
Creativity
Photos, Camera, GarageBand, iMovie, Final Cut Pro for iPad, Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro for iPad, Logic Pro, MainStage, Clips
Exploration
Safari, Maps, Weather, Find My, Wallet, Translate
Health and Fitness
Apple Health, Fitness, Workout, Sleep, Cycle Tracking, Heart Rate, Mindfulness, Apple Research
And all others
Activity Monitor, Alarms, Apple Business Essentials, Apple Configurator, Apple Developer, Apple Remote Desktop, Apple Store, Apple Support, Audio MIDI Setup, Automator, Blood Oxygen, Bluetooth File Exchange, Calculator, Camera Remote, Chess, Classroom, Clock, ColorSync Utility, Compass, Compressor, Console, Create ML, Depth, Dictionary, Digital Color Meter, Disk Utility, DVD Player, ECG, Find Devices, Find Items, Find People, Font Book, Grapher, Image Capture, iTunes Remote, iTunes Store, Keychain Access, Logic Remote, Magnifier, Measure, Medications, Memoji, Migration Assistant, Mission Control, Motion, Move to iOS, Noise, Now Playing, Photo Booth, Preview, QuickTime PlayerShow information for the linked content , Reality Composer, Remote, Schoolwork, ScreenshotShow information for the linked content , Script Editor, Settings, Shazam: Music Discovery, Siren, Stickies, Stopwatch, Swift Playgrounds, System Information, System SettingsShow information for the linked content , Terminal, TestFlight, Texas Hold’em, TextEdit, Time Machine, Timers, Tips, Voice Memos, VoiceOver Utility, Windows Migration Assistant, World Clock, Xcode, Xcode Cloud.

All the guides

Notes App

Learn more in-depth about the Notes app here: A Quick Guide to Apple’s Notes App
The notes app that comes with Apple is pretty good. It is very much a watered down, but single app version of Google Docs (you might not know how much it can do, check that here: Google Docs Is Underrated), just locked to Apple devices. But there are a few things that make it special, which we will talk about here. Most of these suggestions will focus on the MacOS app, but I will add some details about the iOS app too.

Freeform App

Learn more in-depth about the Freeform app here: A Quick Guide to Apple’s Freeform App
The freeform app is a digital whiteboarding solution from Apple. It is a pretty good app, that is again, Apple only, but supports all devices (yes, including Apple Vision Pro, yes, you can have an 80 inch whiteboard right in front of you). It is collaborative like most Apple productivity apps, and it is better built than most people give it credit for.
Freeform is an example of what one might call an infinite canvas app (see more of them here).
It is hard to compare this app to an ecosystem, because Google no longer has a whiteboarding app, Microsoft whiteboard is something I won’t touch with a 10ft pole, Figjam, while awesome is not really made for iPad (and you want whiteboards to support iPad), Miro/Milanote are good, but then, they are equivalent to comparing Notion/Tana/Obsidian to Apple Notes, Goodnotes/Concepts are not whiteboarding apps, Explain Everything is very education focussed, tldraw has poor feel with Apple pencil, and Heptabase doesn’t work on iPad at all.
A much more enhanced version of Freeform would be Nothing comes close to Muse (also read I Tried Many Canvas Apps For Paper Reading). Muse is possibly one of the best white-boarding app that has been built ever, but of course it is a subscription, which is prohibitive for collaborative usecases.

Other Applications

One of the most common use cases that I see is recording content. MacBook comes with an inbuilt screen recorder that can be accessed using shortcuts mentioned hereShow information for the linked content or through the app. Even though the app is named screenshot, it also acts as a screen recorder. You can also choose the option to show/hide mouse clicks, and whether you want to record a portion of the screen or the whole screen.
It does have 2 issues though: it doesn’t work with presenter overlay so you cannot record your webcam, and it has no way to record output audio. QuickTime Player, another Apple app allows you to record internal audio (output audio), but it is an either/or situation - you either record your microphone or the internal sound. While you can use something like blackhole as audio device, that will be complicated and it still does not solve the lack of webcam.
For complicated screen recording needs, you might want a different software. Some suggested apps are Cleanshot, Screenflow, ScreenStudio. I usually use Cleanshot. Cleanshot and Shottr (mentioned hereShow information for the linked content ) also give you better screenshot options.

Facetime

(and other video calling softwares)
MacOS comes with inbuilt video conferencing features, namely, Portrait, Center Stage, Studio Light and Reactions. Reactions are turned on by default in MacOS Sonoma, and I will sincerely suggest to turn them off. Portrait blurs your background, Center Stage kinda (not really, because it is inbuilt you know) shifts the camera direction so that you are in center of the screen, and Studio Light relights your image and background.
One of the newer features though is Presenter Overlay, which allows you to customize screen share, only in Facetime and Zoom. To add a presenter overlay when screen sharing in FaceTime, click the Video icon, select Screen Share, then under Presenter Overlay choose Off for a separate window, Small for a movable cropped view, or Large to prioritize the video feed over the shared screen.

Apps I have don’t use

  • Photos: I have never used the Photos app that comes with Apple devices. I do not want them to be locked into an ecosystem, and I very much prefer Google Photos’ features, so that won’t change anytime. Here is the official guide to Photos app though:
    Quick Tips:
    • Photo’s live text that can be enabled by first selecting text and then using Control (^) + Click on selected text allows you to perform these actions: copy, definitions, translations, web searches, sharing, calling, emailing, and opening links.
    • Duplicates appear automatically in the Duplicates album in the sidebar.
    • To copy the subject of a photo, simply perform a Control (^) + Click on the photo and select the option Copy Subject. You can then paste the subject into various applications such as documents, emails, text messages, or notes.
    • To access information about popular landmarks, art, plants, flowers, pets, and other objects in a photo, simply open the photo and locate the Info button in the toolbar. If a Visual Look Up icon is present on the photo, click on it to gather relevant details.

The “System Settings” App

Did you know you can use iCloud keychain passwords in Chrome? All you need is to install this extension.
You can set a legacy contact, a person who can access your data after your death. Makes things much easier with photos and notes (more here). Automatic Verification privately authenticates you to participating apps and websites, so that you don't have to complete a CAPTCHA. All you have to do is sign in to the app or site (more here).
A screenshot of an Apple device's 'Sign-In & Security' settings page, highlighting 'Setup a person as legacy account such that they can access data after your death'. The Automatic Verification toggle is turned on, allowing iCloud to bypass CAPTCHAs.
You can set basic app limits using Screen Time feature in Settings. These can be defined on a per app basis, and can be set to be blocked during downtime.
Screenshot of the 'Screen Time' menu in Apple device settings, displaying options for activity tracking and usage limits.
Did you know Chrome was testing an integration with screentime? It used to monitor all the websites you would visit just like it currently does in Safari. Unfortunately, it seems like that chrome flag has been axed for the moment.

Screenshot

and QuickTime Player
Spotlight search range. You can decide what kind of things you want to show up in Spotlight using Siri & Spotlight. For example, you can choose to exclude Fonts, because who, other than designers ever wants to string match with a font?
Screenshot of 'Siri & Spotlight' settings on an Apple device, with a list of categories for search results customization.
I use Raycast instead of Spotlight and I set the default keyboard shortcut ⌘ + Space to open Raycast.
You don’t need a different app to manage your storage, you can do that through settings (and figure out the apps/files using the most space)
Screenshot of the Storage settings on a Mac, showing storage breakdown by category. Includes options to manage iCloud storage and optimize storage usage, saying to use the information symbol to see files sorted by size.
I usually set the double click on window title to zoom, use tabs for documents and set up hot corners, as the bottom right hot corner to open quick note. This is because I have dock on left, which triggered by moving the cursor to bottom left corner.
Screenshot of Mac Dock settings menu, showing options for size, position, magnification, minimization behavior, and window reopening preferences.
Sometimes when you zoom (or maximize) instead of full screen, it just expands vertically but not horizontally. That is just how MacOS is 🤷‍♀️.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Turn on tab for navigation, such that you can move between button and other pointer event components in MacOS
Screenshot displaying 'Keyboard' settings on an Apple device, with options for key repeat rate, backlight, and a toggle for keyboard navigation enabled.
Want to change keyboard shortcuts for any menu options? For example Duplicate Tab still does not have a shortcut in Google Chrome. You can set it under Keyboard Shortcuts, on a global or per app basis.
Screenshot of 'Keyboard' settings on an Apple device showing App Shortcuts for various applications and actions.
One of the first things I change are the shortcuts for screenshot. I switch around the shortcut for copy to clipboard and save to file, because often, I am just pasting it somewhere, and I just need it copied to clipboard.
Screenshot of Apple device's 'Keyboard' settings focused on shortcuts for screenshot functions.
I use Shottr and Clop to improve my screenshots, mainly to annotate and optimize them respectively.
If you look at the services tab, you not only decide the keyboard shortcut for them, but also whether they show up or not. For example, for files and folders, you can turn on New Terminal at Folder as an example of inbuilt app, or Send File via KDE Connect as an example of installed app.
Screenshot of 'Services' settings in an Apple device's keyboard preferences, detailing file and folder service shortcuts.
You can set up other things too, such as Clop installs Optimize with Clop under Pictures or turn on the option for Search with Google under Searching.
Screenshot of 'Services' settings within an Apple device's keyboard preferences, with options for internet and picture services.
You can decide services that work with text selection. Did you know that you can make a sticky note out of selected text for example and set up a keyboard shortcut to do it?
Screenshot of 'Text' services in Apple's keyboard settings, showing shortcuts for text conversion and other text-related actions.

Extensions

If you scroll down to Privacy and Security section, you will see extensions. Extensions add more options to your files.
I use other apps to improve extensions: QLMarkdown preview, Syntax Highlight Quicklook, Shareful and Neardrop.
The markup options in Actions and Photos should be selected by default
Screenshot of 'Text' services in keyboard settings on an Apple device, listing options like converting text and opening URLs.
Did you know that quick look options can be extended? For example, the two apps I mentioned above show a better preview of markdown files or of code files, using syntax highlighting.
Screenshot of the 'Extensions' settings on an Apple device, showing Quick Look extensions like preview, markdown, and thumbnails selected.
Share extensions can be used by in-built and installed apps. One of the main ones that adds more to this is — Neardrop, that allows you to send files like Airdrop to android phones. This is how, for example, Mela adds the extension to the share menu.
Screenshot of 'Added Extensions' in the Extensions settings on an Apple device, with various apps like Gifski and Todoist enabled.
Did you know that apple has an inbuilt option to convert images, remove background, trim videos and create pdfs? Yup. You can turn them on in Quick Actions in the Extensions section.
Screenshot of Finder Quick Actions settings on an Apple device, with actions like Rotate Left, Markup, and Remove Background selected.

The Magic of and ^ Keys

Most people know basic shortcuts that come use the Command () key. But the Option () and Control (^) keys are not often ignored, even though in combination with Command () and/or Shift () , they can have many different functions.
When you start using Shortcuts, you’ll often find that most shortcuts pick 1, 2 or 3 keys from , ^, , . So, if you want to decide your own shortcuts and given there are so so many of them, you can choose to have a hyperkey. Hyperkey is a shortcut that is set to use all the modifier keys above + another key. Because you ain’t pressing 5 keys in one go unless you train to play piano everyday, I’ll suggest using Hyperkey, Superkey (Hyperkey+Seek & Click) or Better Touch Tool to set your hyperkey (which most of the people set to caps lock).

System

  1. ⌘ + ⌥ + escForce quit an app.
  2. ⌘ + Click: On a non-focussed window to click on something without focussing it.
  3. ⌘ + ,: Open the preferences menu in many apps (default for Apple apps)
  4. ^ + ⌘ + Space: Character Viewer
    What does character viewer look like?
    Screenshot of the Character Viewer on a Mac with the search term "lam" entered, showing various characters and symbols including the Latin small letter 'l'.
  5. ⌥ + ⌘ + V: Move the files in the Clipboard from their original location to the current location.
    I use the app Command X to cut and paste into a different location instead of remembering this shortcut.
  6. ⌘ + Y: Use Quick Look to preview the selected files. ⌘ + ⌥ + Y: View a Quick Look slideshow of the selected files.
  7. ⌘ + ⌥ + H: Hide all windows but the current one.
  8. ⌘ + Tab: Switch to the next most recently used app among your open apps. if you use the shortcut ⌘ + ⌥ + H to hide the windows, then you can access them using ⌘ + Tab, unlike when you minimize them. ⌘ + `: Switch between the windows of the app you're using.
    Note: The second key might vary based on keyboard layout. It is the key right above the Tab key on the keyboard.
  9. ⌥ + ⌘ + power button: Put your Mac to sleep.
  10. ⌃ + ⌘ + Q: Immediately lock your screen.
  11. ⌃ + ⇧ + ⌘ + T: Add selected Finder item to the Dock.
  12. ⌥ + ⌘ + Del: Delete item skipping moving to trash.
  13. ⌥ + ⇧ + Keyboard/Display Brightness Up/Down: Adjust the display brightness in smaller steps. Add the Control (^) key to this shortcut to make the adjustment on your external display, if supported by your display.
  14. ^ + Down Arrow: Show all windows of the front app.
  15. ⌥ + Drag: Copy the dragged item. The pointer changes while you drag the item.
  16. ⌥ + ⌘ + Drag: Make an alias of the dragged item. The pointer changes while you drag the item.
  17. ⌥ + Right click: Show the option to change the always open with property.
  18. ⌥ + click on green traffic light: Maximize window instead of go into full screen. I also set double click on window title to maximize (hereShow information for the linked content ).

Documents and Text

  1. ⌥ + ⇧ + ⌘ + V: Paste and Match Style: Apply the style of the surrounding content to the item pasted within that content.
  2. ⌃ + P: Move up one line.
  3. ⌃ + N: Move down one line.
  4. ⌃ + A: Move to the beginning of the line or paragraph.
  5. ⌃ + E: Move to the end of a line or paragraph.
  6. ⌥ + ⇧ + ↑: Extend text selection to the beginning of the current paragraph, then to the beginning of the following paragraph if pressed again.
  7. ⌥ + ⇧ + ↓: Extend text selection to the end of the current paragraph, then to the end of the following paragraph if pressed again.
  8. ⌥ + ⇧ + ←: Extend text selection to the beginning of the current word, then to the beginning of the following word if pressed again.
  9. ⌥ + ⇧ + →: Extend text selection to the end of the current word, then to the end of the following word if pressed again.
  10. ⌃ + D: Delete the character to the right of the insertion point. Or use Fn + Delete.
  11. ⌘ + K: Add a web link.
  12. ⌃ + ⌘ + D: Show or hide the definition of the selected word.

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