The Mac and iPad work well together, but some apps take that to the next level. Here are four cross-platform apps that I use all the time. Although this list started with an iPad/Mac list, most include Windows versions, and some include Android.
We will be looking at apps used to create and edit files or otherwise sync data like to-do lists, not things like weather apps that just display information.
Why cross-platform apps? The different platforms each have their strengths. For instance, it is great to be able to open a photo on the iPad to edit with the Pencil. Using the same files between the different platforms simplifies this considerably.
I am back to having a laptop (the excellent 14″ MacBook Pro), but for a while, I was primarily using an iMac, and the iPad was my mobile solution, so without some of these apps, I working between the two would have been much more difficult. And sometimes, I just prefer grabbing the iPad instead of the MacBook.
Some apps also have phone apps, so if an idea for a blog post hits away from the computer, I can pull up iA Writer and get started. While the iPhone is not my preferred writing platform, it is great to be able to capture those ideas while they are fresh.
What makes for an excellent cross-platform app?
- Full file compatibility, so a file created on one platform works on the other and back again. Apps like Garage Band for iOS allow the project to be imported on the Mac, but there is no clear path back, which would not qualify.
- Near or full feature parity. As much as possible, both platforms should support the same features, and any missing features should not impair file compatibility. An excellent example of a feature that is not shared across platforms is the name generator in the desktop version of Scrivener, but not the mobile version. The feature does not impair the file compatibility in any way.
- Optimized for each platform. Developers can basically check a box to deploy iPad apps to the Mac, but this often leads to a suboptimal Mac app.
- iCloud (or other cloud) sync. You should be able to save the file on one device and open it on the other immediately or even have it open on both.
Affinity Suite ($54.99 desktop, $21.99 iPad per app)
Affinity Photo and Designer are solid alternatives to Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, respectively. They have iPad and desktop apps with full file compatibility and nearly full feature parity. Photo and Designer are available for Mac, Windows, and iPad. No Android or iPhone versions are available as of the time of writing.
In addition to Photo and Designer, Affinity also makes Publisher a solid option for desktop publishing. Publisher is currently only available for Mac and Windows, but an iPad version has been teased.
While the Affinity apps are not quite drop-in replacements for Adobe yet, they are compelling options, especially at the price.
iA Writer ($29.99, all platforms)
iA Writer is a very clean markdown editor, and what I used to write this. It is not as full-featured as some; for instance, there are no blogging plugins, but it has a great set of features for writing and even has an iPhone version.
iA Writer saves files as plain text files to its own folder, which gives you a catalog of files. You can add hashtags to the files, then either choose the hashtags or create Smart Folders based on them. This takes a little getting used to but offers a great deal of flexibility. I usually tag files with #wip for work in progress, changing it to #ready when it is done, and #published when it has been posted to my blog and Medium.
Using the hashtags allows you to “move” the files without creating multiple versions and breaking recent file opening, like moving them between folders.
There are quick links to add the various formatting marks for markdown, and some handy features, like creating filling the link if there is a URL in the clipboard when you click the link button.
LastPass (Free app, $3-4/Month for Pro and Family plans, affiliate link)
While I usually don’t like subscriptions, I make some exceptions for programs that provide external services. While Apple Keychain does an excellent job of basic password management, LastPass adds some important features. The most obvious is that it supports Windows and Android. The other big one for me is the Family plan, which allows folders to be shared between family members. Passwords in shared folders can be accessed by family members, with permissions configurable for full, read-only, or no access, so passwords for banks can be shared between parents, and entertainment and education passwords can be shared with children. Passwords that are not in the shared folders are not shared with any family members, so you can maintain security within the family, as well. You can also assign someone who can request your password database after your death.
LastPass also includes security checkups, looking for passwords used across multiple accounts and passwords exposed in data breaches. Password history and a configurable password generator also make managing passwords easier.
While the iWork apps are a great option at an unbeatable price, I have run into enough limitations, especially in Numbers/Excel, that I use Office. I am also more used to the Office apps because I use them in my day job.
Office is also the standard when collaborating with others, and while there is decent file compatibility with some of the other options, using Office is the cleanest when sharing files.
Not only are there Mac, Windows, and iOS apps available, but the files can be edited on the web.
These apps are great, but for whatever reason don’t make it into my “every day” list.
Scrivener ($49 for Mac, $20 for iOS)
Scrivener is better suited for long-form writing and has a great feature set for writing a novel or screenplay, but it can be used for anything. Since I am mainly doing short-form writing, I tend towards iA Writer, but Scrivener’s layout is fantastic for longer-form work.
iWork (Free for Mac owners)
While I use Office for most of my work, iWork is a great option. This does not have a Windows version; however, like Office, it has the option to edit files on iCloud.com, so you can work on files on your gaming rig or other Windows box.
I landed on Affinity Designer, mainly because of the rest of the Affinity Suite, but Vectornator has some great benefits, especially being free. It also has an iPhone version, although I usually find the iPhone too small for heavy vector drawing, even on the Pro Max.
These are some of my favorite cross-platform apps; what are yours? Join the conversation in the comments, and follow me for more articles on photography and the creative life.