If you’re new Mac automation, you might wondering what is the differences between the various automation programs available for the Mac. In this article I share my five most frequently used Mac automation applications that help me stay productive by actually saving me time with performing redundant clicking, mouse movements and tasks I need to perform on a regular basis.
Each of the applications has a unique purpose, and I recommend using all of them. TextExpander is the only subscription-based application in the group; however there are alternative text expansion apps, like TypeIt4Me that don’t require a subscription.
If you’re not currently using these Mac automation applications I recommend downloading the trial version of each of them and experimenting with what they can do. In a section of this article I provide links to some of my articles to help you give you some ideas about specifically what these applications can do.
Definitions and Ratings of Tasks
Perform text expansions: how useful it is for managing and performing text expansions using an abbreviation.
Triggering Shortcuts and Menu Items: how useful it is for managing and triggering keyboard shortcuts and menu items.
Internet searches: how useful it as for performing Internet searches.
Triggering Folder Actions: how it useful it for managing and trigging folder actions, i.e, when something is added to a folder, an action takes place.
Day and Time Trigger: How useful it is for managing and triggering day and time triggers.
Trackpad and Finger Triggers: Can trigger actions using a trackpad or Magic mouse.
5 Very useful • 4 Somewhat useful • Useful • 3 Can do it, but not very useful • X Does not apply
|Performs text expansions||4||5||3||4||X|
|Triggering shortcuts and menu items||5||X||3||4||X|
|Trigger Folder actions||4||X||3||4||5|
|Time and Day Triggers||5||X||X||X||X|
5 Mac Automation Applications
Keyboard Maestro is sort of the grandaddy of Mac automation applications. It’s much more advance than Apple’s Automator, which has not been significantly updated in several year years. Keyboard Maestro contains hundreds of actions that you can trigger using keyboard shortcuts, string triggers, application triggers, and much more. Keyboard Maestro is modestly priced and is regularly updated. Use my affiliate link to purchase it.
TextExpander is a text expansion application that is highly useful if you do a lot of typing on your Mac. Some people are reluctant to use a text expansion program because they think that can’t remember assigned abbreviations for expanding designated text. But there are strategies for remembering abbreviations that I outline in this article. Use my affiliate link for a discount.
When my hand is already on my trackpad, BetterTouchTool saves me from having to move my hand back to the trackpad (notice how many times you do it) in order to press keyboard shortcuts or select a menu item. I use BTT for hundreds of global and application-specific triggers. Once you start using BTT, you’ll never want to use a Mac without it. Here’s an article and video about how to use BTT with Safari.
You can download free trial of BetterTouchTool using my affiliate link. Also check out my BetterTouchTool articles.
Alfred is similar to Apple’s Spotlight program, but it does a lot more. I use it for performing quick Google searches, retrieving and pasting previously copied snippets of text, running quick math calculations, searching my Contacts list, and much more. Here are 10+ ways I use Alfred to improve my productivity. Note: I’m referring to the premium version of Alfred which includes the clipboard manager. Update: Alfred can do text expansion. Inputting data for expansions requires a few more steps than how it’s done in TextExpander, but it’s still very useful.
Hazel is one of the only truly automation programs performs that actions on designated folders, including your desktop without manual triggering. For example, Hazel will move any files on my desktop that have been there more than eight hours. My Hazel library includes dozens of folder rules that help me move and manage files in various places on my Mac. Here’s an overview of how Hazel works.
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Are you assessing the paid version of Alfred? The others are all paid products, so I assume that you are using the paid version of Alfred, which includes several additional features including text expansion.
Ah, thank you, I forgot to point that out. I’ll make note of that.
Like your article. I started using Super Tab due to your review and got myself more familiar with Keyboard Maestro’s features. I am thinking of trying out Text Expander. I have a part-time job for which I use Word to create and edit workout routines (I am a group exercise instructor – day job is state employee where I live). I find KM far easier to learn and use than Apple’s (sorry Apple) Automator app.
Awe, thank you for for your feedback, and sharing what applications you’re using. You’ve definitely made the right choice with these applicantions, and you’re going to especially like what can be done with KM. Please keep in touch and let us know hour your automating is coming along.
Hey Bakari, IMO – Keyboard Maestro should get all 5s except the mouse/trackpad triggers. The text expansion can do what Text Expander and Typinator do. If all you did was create text expansions in KM, it would take 1000s of expansions to slow it down. As far as Internet Searches and search queries, KM does just as well as Alfred (shrug). I love Alfred, BTT and Hazel. I used Typinator over TE though. However, Keyboard Maestro is a monster. On another note, I didn’t know that Alfred and BTT had Folder Triggers. I’ll have to see about implementation. Can you show us those? Intriguing article! Thanks.
Hey KC, thanks for your feedback and good to hear from you. I do think KM qualifies for all 5 stars, but there are some features that are not as strong as compared with other apps. For example, KM can do folder actions, but they are not as easy to set up as in Hazel. And Hazel has features for folder actions that KM doesn’t. I probably need to qualify folder actions for BTT and Alfred. Both allows for opening files in folders, but it’s not the same as Hazel. So yeah, I need to change that. As for Type4Me I need to seriously do a comparative article about it and TE. I think both are fine, but I think TE as some features that I use that are not present in Type4Me. But I need to check it out again.
Ahh.. You changed the word. You said useful, not easy to set up. Intriguing viewpoints on how people use software. I won’t poopoo Hazel because I love it and use it massively. But let’s say you ripped your DVD to play on your Apple TV. You drop it into your Apple TV folder. How easy is it for Hazel to Open the file in your converter, convert it to m4v using say Handbrake, pull the metadata, from IMDB, and associate it with and save it to the file, connect to your Theater machine when completed, move the file over there, import it into iTunes on that machine, add the movie name to a spreadsheet and text you when this is done?? How long would that take you in Hazel? 🙂
What can Hazel do that KM can’t do? It’s not a good argument to discuss what Hazel can do vs. the Keyboard Maestro feature set. I bet KM can do 98% of what Hazel can do. Can Hazel do 15% of what Keyboard Maestro can do? It’s really not close. Hazel does what it does with ease but it really does a few things incredibly well as it relates to file management (Move, copy, rename, sort to folder, sync, upload, tag, notifications and run scripts) right? Can those be done using KM? And we are just talking about Folder Triggers? I’ll give you the argument that some things are easier and quicker to set up.
As far as Text Expansion, between Typinator, Alfred, macOS and KM, I think I’m covered. If there is something unique, from Text Expander that a person needs outside of sharing with teams, then so be it. I can set up prompts and forms using KM or Typinator. I know the diehards love TE and that’s good but if I can stay away from subscriptions, outside of Setapp, I will do so.
Anyway, that’s my 4 and a ½ cents which I probably shouldn’t have given more than a ½ but I love debating comparisons. Take care and keep up the wonderful work!
Hey KC, sorry to be just be getting back. You make a good point. KM can definitely perform more complex automations than Hazel can, so it may deserve a 5 instead of a 4 for its trigger folder actions features. As for TE vs Typinator, I can’t say anything except I need to write a comparison of the two apps. I don’t mind paying for a yearly subscription to TE, but sadly they haven’t introduced significant upgrades since they switched to their subscription plan several years ago. I’m going to review Typinator and TypeIt4Me, particularly because they seem to be really good alternatives to TE, and they don’t require subscriptions. Plus, I trust your judgment, my friend. Thanks for your feedback.
This was a good article. I use all five of the apps mentioned in your article. I use Alfred, Text Expander, and Hazel the most. My goal is to learn and utilize Keyboard Maestro and Better Touch Tool more this year. I like your insights! Keep up the good work. Aloha!
Thanks, Les, appreciate your feedback. It will make a great testimonial.
Correction please: Alfred can do text expansions. Features / Snippets / Automatically expand snippets by keyword. Date & Date arithmetics, clipboard manipulations, random text and cursor positions are the basic functions that can be extended with scripts from Workflows. Lack of import / export function makes it tedious for power users although it offers enough for beginners / intermediates to quicken their typing. Would rate it 4, similar to Keyboard Maestro.
Endre, you’re definitely correct. Not sure why I forgot that, other than I don’t use that feature in Alfred. I’ll update that in the article. thanks.