A Complete Guide to Default Mac Apps and What They Do

Joel Lee 30-09-2016

Like most operating systems, your Mac comes loaded with a handful of default apps that cover all kinds of use cases: office work, web browsing, email, tasks and todos, maps and navigation, photo management, music and podcasts, and more.


While Apple has done an overall great job in naming these apps, you may still be confused by what they do or whether you actually need some of them — and this is true whether you’re a recent convert to Mac or a long-time satisfied Mac veteran.

In this post, we’ll go through ALL of the default applications that come installed with Apple’s desktop operating system, explain what they do, and whether you should care about them or not. If you’re looking for a list of apps that you shouldn’t need to replace, check out this list of the best default Mac apps The Best Default Mac Apps That You Shouldn't Need to Replace Here are some of the best default, pre-installed, native Mac apps worth using. Don't ditch them before you try them! Read More .

Your Basic Mac Apps


App (Useful): The App Store is one method for installing new apps on your system, but even if you never use it for this reason, it still serves an important purpose: maintaining the update cycle of El Capitan itself. (Very Useful): This app provides a way for you to automate hundreds of different system actions that you can combine and use to perform complex tasks without any programming or scripting knowledge. Do you need it? Not really. Should you learn it? Absolutely. (Useful): I personally use this app on a daily basis, whether to update my personal budgets, calculate estimated tax payments, or just offload whatever bit of mental math I don’t feel like doing at the moment — but it’s often faster to use Spotlight’s instant math feature instead.

mac-default-app-calendar (Very Useful): This app is a clean and efficient way to manage your day-to-day tasks. It may not be the most advanced calendar app out there, but it’s more than enough for most users who aren’t, say, running a small business. Syncs with iCloud. (Not Useful): Why is Chess a system application in Mac? Furthermore, why did Apple think it was necessary to protect it with System Integrity Protection How to Disable System Integrity Protection (and Why You Shouldn't) There are more reasons to leave macOS' System Integrity Protection on than turn it off, but turning it off is easy. Read More ? But I digress. Chess is just a straightforward offline-only chess app. (Useful): This app is essentially a digital Rolodex that stores contact information on your friends, family members, and acquaintances. It syncs with iCloud, allowing the information to be used in other iCloud apps like Mail. (Useful): Dashboard provides a central screen that you can load up with widgets. A widget is like an interactive “mini-app” that only resides on Dashboard, like a calendar viewer or a weather forecast. And yes, you can install third-party widgets if you want.

mac-default-app-dictionary (Useful): A simple but potentially useful app if you ever need access to a dictionary, thesaurus, or Wikipedia. Provided by the New Oxford American Dictionary and Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, respectively. I personally never use it.

DVD (Not Useful): This app may as well be obsolete. Modern Macbooks, iMacs, and other Apple machines don’t come equipped with DVD drives anymore, so DVD Player is only useful if you have something like an external DVD drive. Besides, apps like VLC can handle DVD playback anyway. (Useful): FaceTime is basically the Apple version of a more streamlined Skype: you can initiate and receive both audio calls and video calls with other FaceTime users. Unfortunately this means you can only use this between Apple devices. If you have friends or family on Windows or Android, you’ll need Skype, Google Hangouts, and so on.


Font (Very Useful): Unlike in Windows or Linux, Mac comes with a built-in font management utility that makes it a breeze to install, preview, and delete font families from your system. I like it because I’m a big font freak and Font Book can separate system fonts from user-installed fonts, making it easier to know what I’ve installed.

Game (Not Useful): Game Center is meant to be a central area where you can find games, both single- and multi-player, to play on your own or with friends. It requires your Apple ID as a sign-in. Unfortunately there aren’t many games, and the ones that exist aren’t noteworthy. For Mac App Store games, Apple forces developers to use Game Center for multiplayer How to Use (and Disable) Game Center on Mac & iOS Apple's Game Center strives to make playing mobile games a social activity again, but using the service isn't quite so straightforward any more. Read More . (Useful): A simple and intuitive music studio that you can use to create loops, music, or even podcasts How to Use GarageBand: A Step-By-Step Guide GarageBand is a powerful audio recording and editing software for Mac, but getting started is tough. This tutorial will show you how to use GarageBand. Read More . A lot of new musicians use this as a stepping stone to more complex apps like Logic Pro X, and it’s so useful that this app alone is one reason why some Windows users convert to Mac in the first place. (Useful): iBooks is like iTunes for ebooks. It comes with a built-in store where you can purchase thousands of titles (including recent mainstream releases) or you can import your own if you have ebooks on your system. I primary use it as an ebook reader and manager — and I love it because it’s both simple and beautiful. Supports both EPUB and PDF formats. (Useful): A simple and intuitive movie editor that you can pretty much think of as “GarageBand for movies”. You can import raw clips and images, edit them together, and polish off with text, music, and basic post-processing effects. You’d be surprised by how many YouTube videos were made using iMovie!

mac-default-app-itunes (Useful): Everyone knows about iTunes — even those who have never touched a Mac in their life! Over the years, it has morphed into a kind of all-in-one media manager for music, movies, TV shows, and iOS devices. but I primarily use it for managing and listening to podcasts. For music and other forms of media, I prefer using an iTunes alternative Alternatives to iTunes: 5 Best Free Music Players for macOS Unless you have no choice but to use iTunes, you should consider switching to one of these iTunes alternatives for Mac. Read More because iTunes is bloated and can be slow at times.

Image (Not Useful): If you have a scanner or camera connected to your computer, you can use Image Capture to take images. Some older digital cameras may rely on an app like Image Capture to import directly from the device, but most now have Wi-Fi sharing (or you can just pop the SD card into your reader). (Useful): Keynote is Apple’s answer to Microsoft PowerPoint. With it, you can create all kinds of interesting presentations ranging from simple and elegant to complex and advanced, especially once you’ve learned a few tricks of the trade 10 Tips and Tricks for Amazing Keynote Presentations on Mac If you use Keynote on Mac, you need to know these essential tips and tricks to make your Keynote presentations stand out. Read More . It can import and export to PowerPoint formats, so no need to worry about compatibility. (Not Useful): Launchpad was added as a way to unify the experience between iOS and Mac, but I’m not sure this was necessary. Its primary function is to help you find and launch apps, but Spotlight can do the same thing (and Spotlight is objectively better in every way, especially because it can find lost files in a heartbeat). You can access launchpad by hitting F4, or pinching with four or more fingers on a trackpad. (Useful): The default app for handling email accounts and inboxes. It’s actually quite good if you ask me, but I don’t use it because there are a few interface quirks that I don’t like. Instead, I use Postbox as an alternative mail client, but lots of people use Mail and love it.

mac-default-app-maps (Useful): To be honest, I really like Maps because the interface is straightforward without being primitive and the animations are buttery smooth. You can also send directions straight to your iPhone or iPad via the Share button, which is nice. Unfortunately it’s still not quite as good as Google Maps 13 Google Maps Tips for Smarter Navigation on Your iPhone Google Maps is a "communication tool" now. Let's look into the benefits – some new, and some old – which can help us make sense of the world around us. Read More . (Useful): Messages lets you send and receive unlimited text messages with other iMessage users, and these messages can include photos, audio clips, and other kinds of files. It’s most useful if you have a lot of Apple fan friends, but you can get it to work with Jabber and a few other IM protocols if you want.

Mission (Very Useful): When you activate Mission Control, everything “zooms out” so you can see all of your active apps at once. This makes it really easy to switch from one app to another without command+tabbing a bunch of times, especially if you have ten or more apps open. It’s also great for managing multiple virtual desktops How to Use Multiple Desktops in Mac OS X Multiple desktops were originally added Apple’s desktop operating system in 2009, but a large number of users are still surprised to find the feature exists at all. Read More , which every Mac user should be doing. (Useful): Though Evernote and OneNote are the two reigning kings of digital note-taking Evernote vs. OneNote: Which Note-Taking App Is Right for You? Evernote and OneNote are amazing note-taking apps. It's hard to pick between the two. We compared everything from interface to note organization to help you choose. What works best for you? Read More , Apple Notes is catching up. It integrates with iCloud so it’s the best option if you use both Mac and iOS, otherwise you may want to stick with a more cross-platform option. If you do end up using Notes, master these tips for maximum productivity 10 Tips to Get the Most out of Apple Notes on OS X Have you switched over to Apple's vastly improved Notes app? Here are a few tips on improving your workflow. Read More .

mac-default-app-numbers (Useful): Just as Keynote is the Apple version of PowerPoint, Numbers is the Apple version of Excel. It’s too bad that Apple chose to name it this way — the app itself is great, but the name is vague especially when looking for Numbers tips online. If you do a lot of spreadsheet work, you’ll use this one a lot. (Useful): Here we have Apple’s answer to Microsoft Word and the trend holds true here: simple, straightforward, but nowhere near as feature-rich. It’s fantastic for getting words on a page — and that’s more than enough for most — but if you need a full-blown word processor, you may want to opt for one of these paid alternatives instead 5 Mac Word Processors To Help You Write That College Paper Finding sources to cite is easy. Planning a paper is easy. Sitting down and writing the thing? Much harder — do yourself a favour and get the right tool for the job. Read More .

Photo (Useful): Need to take a photo or video of yourself? Photo Booth can do that using your Mac’s built-in camera, or an externally-connected camera, in three modes: single photo, four quick photos, or a movie clip. You can also add over 20 different effects if you want to have some fun. (Useful): A central library that makes it easy to organize and manage your photos and videos. It won’t take photos or videos (use Photo Booth for that) but it’s great for storing albums and creating “projects” like slideshows, prints, cards, and so on. It can even edit RAW files, but serious photographers should still consider using Lightroom instead. (Very Useful): If you view a lot of images or regularly read PDF documents, then prepare to use Preview often. It can also handle other file types, including raw camera output The Best Free RAW Image Processors For Mac OS X Photoshop is expensive, and while many are happy to fork out a monthly fee for Adobe's revised Creative Cloud system, others will always turn to free software first. One thing is for sure: if you're... Read More , PowerPoint presentations, and Photoshop PSDs. Note that there are some cool Preview tricks you should master 10 Tips You Need to Know About Mac Preview Read More (like splitting and merging PDFs).

QuickTime (Useful): Not only is this the default video player for Mac, QuickTime Player comes with a lot of other useful functionality as well, including the ability to record audio, record your screen, splice videos, and upload to YouTube. It’s also one of the best video converter apps for macOS. (Useful): You might think Reminders is an alarm app — which isn’t untrue since it does have alarm functionality — but it’s actually a to-do list app. Create multiple lists with multiple items in each list, then set alarms on individual items if you wish (according to time or when you enter a location How to Set Up Location Alerts in iPhone Reminders Set location-based alerts using the iOS Reminders app and never forget to buy bread or pick up a package ever again. Read More ). It syncs to iOS devices through iCloud, can be used for recurring alerts too.

mac-default-app-safari (Very Useful): Safari is Mac’s window to the internet. A lot of people recommend choosing Chrome over Safari Safari vs. Chrome on OS X: Which Browser Is Right For You? Chrome or Safari? It's not a clear-cut answer. Truth is, brand loyalty is counter-productive. You should revisit your options regularly to see if maybe something better exists. Read More , but there are several good reasons why you shouldn’t use Chrome on a Mac Safari vs. Chrome for Mac: 9 Reasons You Shouldn't Use Chrome Between Safari and Chrome on Mac, Safari is the clear winner. Here's why you should avoid using Google Chrome on Mac. Read More . As for me, I’m a big fan of Opera even though it has flaws compared to other browsers Which Browser Is Best? Edge vs. Chrome vs. Opera vs. Firefox The browser you're using right now may not be the best one for you. The browser arena changes so frequently that your conclusions from comparisons made last year may be completely wrong this year. Read More . (Not Useful): Stickies lets you create and maintain “sticky notes” that sit on your desktop. This concept was really popular back in the early 2000s, but now that we have dedicated notes apps like Evernote and its alternatives The Best Alternatives to Evernote You Need Today Has Evernote's recent price increase and two-device restriction for the free plan disturbed your note-taking workflow? Then, it's time to take another look at some of the best Evernote alternatives. Read More as well as smartphone-based reminders, Stickies is little more than unnecessary clutter. (Not Useful): Though it’s often described as a “word processor”, TextEdit is more like Notepad than Word — and for simple text editing, there are so many better and more powerful alternatives that nobody should be using TextEdit anymore. My editor of choice? Visual Studio Code or Sublime Text.

Time (Very Useful): Knowing how to use Time Machine is a MUST for any and all Mac users. This app makes it easy to migrate your personal data to a fresh Mac installation, or it can restore your system to a previous point 3 Ways to Restore Data From Time Machine Backups Here are several methods for how to restore your Mac using Time Machine, including what to do about "searching for time machine backups." Read More if something ever goes catastrophically wrong. And it’s even easier to use with these third-party data backup tools 5 Local Mac Backup Solutions That Aren't Time Machine There are lots of Mac backup options out there, and many of them have features that Apple's default backup app just can't compete with. Read More .

A Peek Inside the Utilities Folder

The Utilities subfolder in the Applications folder contains a handful of system utilities that may or may not be useful to you on a day-to-day basis, but will likely come in handy at one point or another.

Activity Similar to Task Manager on Windows but more in depth. View everything from CPU usage per process to total RAM availability, from energy impact per process to overall network activity. It’s one of the most important built-in system utilities 9 Useful In-Built Mac OS X Utilities You've Probably Never Used While you're not forced to become familiar with them, there are a handful of useful utilities included with Mac OS X. Read More .

AirPort Used to set up and manage AirPort base stations (AirPort Express, AirPort Extreme, and AirPort Time Capsule), which are basically Apple’s proprietary line of Wi-Fi cards and routers.

Audio MIDI Set up and manage audio devices on your system.


Bluetooth File Set up and manage Bluetooth connections with nearby compatible devices.

Boot Camp Set up and manage a dual-boot configuration, allowing your system to boot into either Mac or Windows. It’s the preferred method for getting Windows on your system 3 Ways to Run Windows on Your Mac Wondering how to get Windows on your Mac? Here's how to run Windows using Boot Camp, virtualization, and Windows To Go. Read More .

ColorSync Grants finer controls over the color display and color profiles of your system. If your colors look off and you sure it isn’t caused by a color-shifting app like F.lux Can F.lux and Night Shift Really Improve Your Sleep Habits? Excessive use of computers, tablets, and smartphones can lead to deteriorated sleep quality -- but do apps like F.lux and Night Shift really counteract those effects? The science is pretty clear on this. Read More , then you may want to tinker around with it. A tool that lets you view various system logs and diagnostic reports. Very useful for finding and troubleshooting system errors once you learn how to use it.


Digital Color A nifty utility that displays the color value of any pixel on your screen. Color values can even be displayed in other formats such as Adobe RGB.

Disk A tool that gives you basic information and control over your disk drives. It’s the recommended way to erase disk drives, including USB and external drives. Takes screenshots. While it isn’t as useful anymore because Mac has system-wide screenshot keyboard shortcuts How to Take Screenshots on Mac: Tips, Tools, and Tricks to Know Need to take a screenshot on your mac? Here are the best shortcuts, tips, and apps for macOS screenshots. Read More , Grab does come in handy for its “Timed Screenshot” option which has a 10-second delay. Enter one or more mathematical equations and Grapher will graph them for you.

Keychain A password manager that syncs with iCloud iCloud Drive Not Syncing? How to Solve iCloud Sync Issues If you have issues with iCloud Drive, don't despair. Here's how to resolve iCloud syncing issues and get it working again. Read More . It can be used to instantly log into websites, Wi-Fi networks, social accounts, and more. And because you don’t need to remember your passwords anymore, they can be both long and tough — which better protects your accounts against hackers 5 Best LastPass Alternatives to Manage Your Passwords Many people consider LastPass to be the king of password managers; it's packed with features and boasts more users than any of its competitors -- but it's far from being the only option! Read More .

Migration A quick wizard for migrating your personal data onto your current system, either from another Mac, another PC, another drive, or a Time Machine backup.

Script Lets you create AppleScript scripts, which can perform complex tasks involving apps on your system or the system itself. It’s frequently used for task automation as it’s more powerful (but also more advanced) than Automator.


System Provides deep level information involving the hardware, software, and network of your system. For example, if you want to know the manufactured part number of your RAM modules, this is where you’d look. A command line utility for Mac. Starting with OS X 10.3, the default shell is Bash — this means that the command line experience between a fresh install of Mac and Ubuntu is nearly identical. For full control of your system, learning the command line is recommended.

VoiceOver A screen reader tool for visually-impaired users.

Hopefully this overview helps Mac newcomers! Which default Mac apps do you use all the time? Which ones do you never use? Share with us in a comment down below, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

Explore more about: Mac, macOS Sierra, OS X El Capitan.

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  1. Hans de Wolf
    October 2, 2016 at 7:00 am

    The ColorSync utility is also an excellent tool to reduce the size of your PDFs. Open PDF, select filter, apply, save new PDF. If you want you can define your own filter (e.g. max 300 dpi, average JPEG quality)

  2. John Dershall
    September 30, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    Please forgive me for being a hater. I'd like to think I have a good reason (I don't).
    I have worked with / for Apple for over a decade. I believe if you really considering switching to Apple devices now in the late 2016, not knowing what some native applications (doesn't) do is the least of your troubles...

    This is my take on the list above clearifying some of the reasons:

    AppStore - source of "iOSque" software. Only rarely can you find something usefull here. Good developers woldn't touch it with a bargepole.
    Automator - yes, you can stick with bash, that is why you have bought a unix based device in the first place, ain't it? (Alternatively you don't know what UNIX is and than you are a victim).
    Calculator - useless, but common
    Calendar - useless, famously unreliable, will not play well even with OS X Server.
    Chess - I've been using Macs for over a decade, this is the first time I have noticed!
    Contacts - the iOS have duplicated your contacts? This app has decent chance of fixing it without loosing too much data.
    Dashboard - useless feature a lot of people are surprised still exists
    Dictionary - useless
    DVD player - useless
    FaceTime - hw specific chat software, like a bread you can only cut with a golden knife, useless
    Font Book - old as os x itself, usefull for dealing with font issues (if you are the sort of person who has font issues).
    Game Center - bad joke
    GarageBand - audio editor for pre-teens
    iBooks - compared to Calibre useless
    iMovie - video editor for pre-teens
    iTunes - a prison for your iPhone
    ImageCapture - because iPhone will not act as Mass Storage device
    Keynote - so little features and so much hype, 10 templates chosen with taste
    Launchpad - "iOSque" program launcher, useless - yes, you need to restart this app 7 times a day to make it catch up with your iPhone - On desktop? I don't get it! - the face time faux-pas all over again, should be noted that it does not play well with OS X server
    Mission Control - very uneffective task/window switching - hw specific note taking app (unlike evernote, simplenote or onenote) - hw specific spreadsheet app - you'll do better with libre office - hw specific text editor app - you still haven't installed libre office? - because taking selfies with a phone is so hard - the reason one does no longer use local photo managers (unless you are a professional and you are ready to suffer for it) - universal file viewer, usefull! - some usefull features offset by its inability to play most video / audio formats. Replace with VLC - remind me what reminders are good for? - the lest used (and least useful) os specific browser in the world. - really surprised it still exists
    Time - with the arrival of ssds the most reliable method of loosing all your data while having the warm feeling of daily backups. Specially dangerous in combination with the Time Capsule. Ask at your local data recovery provider :D

    Honorable mentions: - exactly what it says, very usefull
    HomeBrew/MacPorts - the appstore you were looking for
    AirPort - so you have expected to setup your new apple router with browser? Dream on!
    Disk - the only volume management app I have seen that will not read S.M.A.R.T.