Apps and Services I’ll Keep Using in 2021

Published
A fish tank of eels

As the end of 2020 finally fucking approached – and as the Discover card corporation kept “helpfully” processing subscription payments from services that had years-old credit card numbers – I found myself reviewing my recurring subscriptions for apps, tools, and services. The goal was to reach a minimum of eels (translation: leeches) going forward.

I’ve collected this list mostly as a personal exercise, but if you find it useful, hey, great. If you have questions about anything listed, send me a note!

Some context before we begin:

  • Not everything is a recommendation. I haven’t tried every possible app or service for every possible need. Some of this stuff I love, some of it is merely fine, and some of it drives me up the wall but I’m in too deep, damn it.
  • For clarity of comparison, I’ve converted to the equivalent monthly price, even if it bills annually.
  • I’ve lumped apps with a subscription model and more traditional SaaS services together, because it’s 2021 and what’s the difference anymore, really?

If it seems like something is missing, I’ve either forgotten about it, it’s free, or someone else pays for it. I’m working on a larger post about my entire app stack, which I will finish someday if anyone even reads this one 😉

Apple One Premier

$29/mo

Cloud storage, news, music streaming, iOS gaming, workout videos, rewatching Ted Lasso

Apple One is a multi-service subscription package. We’re a fully-Apple household – iPhone, iPad, MacBook, Apple Watch for both of us – so this just makes sense.

I went for the big boy Premier plan on release day and it’s been just fine, save for the extremely ridiculous restriction of not being able to use AirPlay with the Fitness+ workout videos. But it sounds like they’re working on that.

iCloud has been very reliable for me for over a year now. I’m more or less all-in on it. You’ll see below that I’ve canceled Dropbox, and all of my photos primarily live in Apple’s cloud for active management.

I don’t need Apple Arcade or Fitness+, but they get used here and there in our household. My partner and I were already both paying for Apple Music. I’d enjoyed News+ during a free trial period previously, and am glad to have it again. I have Scientific American again!

Backblaze

$5/mo

Idiot-proof offsite backups

Backblaze (referral) silently and reliably backs up my entire hard drive to their cloud – which, importantly, is different than Apple’s cloud. Two clouds! I couldn’t sleep at night having it ALL in one place.

I’ve never had to use Backblaze for file recovery and hope I never have to. The back-up app is great, reliable, and hands-free. I don’t have to configure anything, and it’s been good enough about bandwidth and CPU usage that I don’t have to pause or quit it like I always had to with Dropbox or the dreadful Google File Service app.

ConvertKit

$29/mo.

Landing pages and email marketing

I run my fortnightly personal newsletter on ConvertKit, which it’s not great for, honestly. It’s not focused around publishing regular, high-quality emails … more landing pages, A/B testing, automation sequences, that sort of thing. But I wanted everything in one place and it was a good enough fit for the moment over the summer when I was trying out several project ideas at once. I will probably switch over to a paid Mailchimp plan – where I’m contracting at the moment, full disclosure – once UX Writing Events hits the free plan subscriber limit.

YouTube Premium

$11.99/mo

Ad-free viewing of independent long-form content

YouTube and Google are democracy-destabilizing forces of evil. I give them about $20 a month between YouTube Premium and my Google Apps account. 🤷🏻‍♂️

Look. I already watched a lot of YouTube before the pandemic, and then my viewing just about tripled. A lot of the content I watch is long-form stuff like lectures, concerts, real-time city and transit tours, theatre, and maker videos. Those are all much nicer and more immersive without ad interruptions.

Background play on iOS is nice, too, although it’s absurd that that’s a paid feature.

G(oogle) Suite Basic

~$6.00/mo

Email and office apps

Separation of work and Scott is very important to me. I’ve had my own Google Apps account on this domain for years, even before and through my last two full-time jobs. Looks like the equivalent plan now is called Business Standard, now.

G Suite been a solid workhorse and tremendous value for the money compared to just about any other service I subscribe to. As someone who does all kinds of indie projects with various people, I really appreciate the flexibility of having a full set of apps for collaboration that don’t make use of my personal Gmail account or get things tangled up with my work life.

Once you get the hang of domain aliases, it’s super easy to spin up a new project and have everything come into one inbox without actually managing tons of accounts all over the place.

Flywheel

~$12/mo.

WordPress website hosting

Building out this site on Flywheel (referral) with a “self-hosted” WordPress installation was my big funemployment project in 2020. It’s been great.

Solid, reliable, good customer service, and great value. You’d pay more and get less on a Squarespace business plan, so if you’re comfortable with configuring WordPress and doing a bit of plug-in maintenance here and there, Flywheel is a great option for publishing your own personal website. If you’re even a little bit technically-inclined, it’s a much better value than the WordPress.com plans, in my opinion.

1Blocker

$0.41/mo. ($4.99 annual plan)

Making the web halfway usable

No, I will not disable my ad blocker, thank you, because “ad” actually means “invasive and frequently malicious surveillance technology”.

1Blocker blocks ads, yes, but also nonsense various beacons and trackers, social media widgets, comments, and more. It mostly-invisibly integrates directly with Safari on iOS and Mac. When I have to use a browser without it, the web feels half as fast and twice as hard to use.

Calendly

$8/mo. ($96 annual plan)

Self-service scheduling for consulting, office hours, and meetings I don’t want to spend another minute trying to coordinate

I get a headache when I think too hard about calendars and scheduling stuff, but not with Calendly. Having a link where people can book time with you directly cuts a lot of email chains in half. I just jump right to: “If that sounds good, grab some time on my calendar.” Then I zoop that whole thread outta my inbox and outta my mind.

But what if they don’t schedule something, Scott? Well, I forget about it and the world keeps turning, is what.

Miro

$15/mo. (consultant plan)

Collaborative online whiteboarding for classes, collabs, and consulting

Miro (referral) is my current fave for online workshops and visual recording during meetings and consultations. It’s a lifeline in this digital-first world, but I expect I’ll keep using it for workshops even when in-person events resume.

Like many services, the pricing model and features are not great if you’re actually just a team of one. They have some hinky day pass thing that gets the job done, but is more hassle and cost than I’d care for. I don’t care about the $4, I care about having to think about the $4.

Ulysses

~$3.33/mo. ($39.99 app subscription)

A place to write

The app Ulysses remains my writing environment of choice for long-form writing like this blog post, design articles, and my personal newsletter. The publishing workflow from typing in Markdown in Ulysses to having a draft post ready to refine and publish on this site is really slick. It just works for me.

Yousician

$9.99/mo.

Music lessons

I’m not sure which plan I’m on actually but it costs around that much. I like the instant feedback and video-game-ification of apps like this for music practice, and Yousician is a decent value for me as my interest tends to pendulum between instruments every few months.

Overcast

$0.83/mo ($9.99 annual app subscription)

Catching pods

Overcast is the only way I’ll listen to podcasts. It’s reliable, the design is smart, and the features are, as they say, killer. Once you try the smart speed you’ll struggle to listen to many podcasts without it. It removes silences almost invisibly, which makes discussion and conversation-based podcasts fly by without seeming like they’re flying by. According to my stats, I’ve smart-sped my way past 132 hours of people trying to think of a word or waiting an extra beat to start talking because of Skype delays.

Hover

Varies (~$15/year for a .com, ~$26/year for this site)

Domain name renewals

I’ve been on Hover (referral link) for years and years now. I’ve been a very good boy about reducing the number of domain names I’m still paying for after a peak of … no, I’m not even going to tell you. It was 3-digit number. (Now it’s a one-digit number: 9.)

Why people insist on paying as little as possible for their DOMAIN NAME, the core of their web presence, and are willing to wade through dark-pattern infested swamp water to buy it from a service with a name like SupahCHEAPDomainzzz.Biz, is really beyond me. Pay another buck or two for Hover and don’t invite that nonsense into your life.

Privacy is built-in to Hover, the service has been very secure and reliable for me, and even though DNS stuff gives me a migraine sometimes I find their configuration screens very easy to use.

Ting

~$45/mo. (varies)

Pay-for-what-you-use cell phone service

Ting (referral link; $25 sign-up credit!) is my cell provider. I like their pricing model, which scales automatically based on usage. I haven’t been leaving the house much lately, obviously, so my bills automatically fell to around $30/month.

The largest bill I ever got was $90, which included a couple of roaming calls and 175mb of data while in Germany. Pre-pandemic normal for me was about $45/month for calls, texts, and data to my unlocked iPhone 8.

I’ve used Ting for several years now, and outside of some coverage gaps I hit in rural parts of the Midwest on various road trips, I have no complaints.

Buy Me a Coffee

Per-transaction fee

Digital tip jar

I use Buy Me a Coffee as my digital tip jar. People give me money when they really like something I’m doing. It is far-and-away my smallest source of revenue, but one of my biggest sources of joy. It really feels good when people like what I’m doing, want me to do more of it, and demonstrate that with whatever cash they feel like sparing at the moment.

It doesn’t cost to use up-front, they get theirs per transaction. I have it set for the coffee-buyer to incur the credit card and BMAC fees. Then Paypal and Stripe take a little dip out on their end, around a buck on a $20 donation.


And some services I won’t…

Not everything made the cut.

Amazon Prime

It’s been difficult, in these pandemic times, not to order anything from Amazon, but I’ve drastically reduced the company’s presence in my life. I wiped and unplugged my three Echo Dot devices several months back and let my Prime account expire. My partner put it well the other day: “I’m not never going to order from Amazon, but I don’t want Amazon to run my life.”

I’ve learned that while there are indeed some things I can only find on Amazon, a lot of stuff ends up costing less from other retailers if you’re willing to look around a bit; especially as more and more brands pop up their own online stores.

Dropbox

This was an easy choice. iCloud kept getting more and more reliable, and Dropbox kept getting less and less interested in letting my files just be files. Tried to download anything through their web app lately? It’s a multi-menu affair. Honestly.

MindNode

I love this app. I would not be surprised to learn I was responsible for sending hundreds of new customers their way. I don’t at all begrudge them moving to a subscription model. But I just don’t use it enough to keep paying for it, especially when I’m already paying for Miro. If I go on a W2 again I’ll make someone else pay for it in a heartbeat. 😂

Day One

Day One has been my journal for about a decade. Unfortunately, at best, it’s the least-worst journaling app I’ve tried. But as of this writing, my subscription is set to expire in June, and I’m going to try my damndest to find a replacement. It’s just too important of a thing to be so glitchy.

iTunes Match

Canceling iTunes Match was like finally hitting the bottom of the well I’ve been falling down since Rdio went away. Can’t really keep justifying $25/year to have streaming access to old CDs I ripped 20 years ago and never listen to. Not sure I ever could, but letting go is hard sometimes.


Photo by Julia Goralski on Unsplash