The survey reveals surprising Mac user app preferences and buying trends

A Mac user's setup including an iMac and an iPhone.
Image: Jonathan Arbely/Unsplash

Professionals who use Macs while working in small and medium-sized businesses have intriguing software preferences, according to insights from a new Setapp Mac software survey. The survey results from Setapp — MacPaw’s Kyiv, Ukraine-based application subscription provider — may affect how you use and buy Mac apps. Let’s consider how three changes have changed the way Mac users meet their software needs.

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Software buying behaviors have changed

I used to think it was pretty easy to choose and buy software. When buying applications, my process used to be simple: Determine the best option for my needs, often the market-leading program or its closest competitor, and buy the corresponding license.

If the OEM versions were available, they were usually found to be cheaper than retail or direct purchase, but OEM licenses can usually only be used on the machine they are purchased with.

Given that I, like many users, typically keep new computers in production for four years, this was no problem. After a few years, updated versions of the programs became available. I would then update my edition by purchasing a new OEM license when I bought a new Mac.

Then three things happened: First, Apple rolled out its App Store, which simplified the purchase, tracking, and even updating of software applications; second, Apple doubled down on its commitment to developing and maintaining easy-to-read and impressive software solutions—like Mail, Messages, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote—for free on Macs; and thirdly, software subscriptions were introduced, and in many cases are becoming the norm.

Survey Setapp Mac Apps Says…

Where do Mac users gather information about macOS software options?

About 52% of respondents said Apple’s App Store is where they learn about Mac apps. Social media was the second most popular source at 43%, although respondents said they did not trust social media as much.

Instead, more than 85% of respondents trust the App Store, YouTube, podcasts, newsletters, colleagues, friends or other professional recommendations. I tend to distrust social media as well, and favor peer recommendations and customer feedback.

How many programs do Mac users install on their Apple computers?

According to the survey, the number of apps installed on respondents’ Macs increased from 31 in 2021 to 37 this year. However, the number of apps used daily changed only slightly: 13 compared to 12 the previous year.

LOOKS: The complete limited edition Mac bundle (TechRepublic Academy)

The fewer Mac apps you have installed, the better you can secure a machine and limit the time it takes to download and install updates. The number of Mac programs you need ultimately depends on the professional responsibilities you fulfill and the type of work you do on a regular basis. Whenever possible, using a single app for multiple purposes helps minimize the number of apps needed.

The survey also found that 10 out of 13 apps used daily by Mac users are installed by default on Mac computers. That finding is exciting. Consider: More than 75% of the apps Mac users turn to every day are pre-installed. The result must surely be that dependence on third-party software providers is reduced.

What are the most used Mac apps?

Of the native Apple programs included in macOS, the Safari browser (68%) and the Messages app (65%) are the most used programs. That’s a surprise to me – I would have guessed that Mail is used more often than Messages, but maybe I’m dating myself.

Photos (59%) and Mail (57%) are the next two most used apps. Next, Calendar (47%), FaceTime (45%) and Notes (44%) are the most popular built-in tools (Picture A).

Picture A

Safari and Messages are the most used native macOS apps.
Image: Sendapp. Safari and Messages are the most used native macOS apps.

When it comes to everyday office productivity software, Microsoft seems to have a stranglehold with Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

These Microsoft Office applications, along with the Google Chrome browser and Adobe apps, are then the most installed Mac applications according to Setapp’s survey, as reflected in the word cloud chart in Picture B.

Picture B

Microsoft Office and Google Chrome dominate the third-party apps installed by Mac users.
Image: Sendapp. Microsoft Office and Google Chrome dominate the third-party apps installed by Mac users.

What are the most important considerations for Mac users when choosing a new app?

Based on the survey, the answer is features (47%) and security (45%). A Mac application’s price (38%) and its corresponding user experience and interface (37%) are the second most important factors, closely followed by privacy and data management practices (35%). An application designer’s reputation (17%) ranked almost last, just higher than Other (1%).

Many respondents consider automatic updates (46%) and a desire not to overload their Macs with redundant software (43%) to be important purchase considerations. About 55% of respondents feel more strongly that high-quality Mac apps cost money, and they are ready to pay a corresponding price (Picture C).

Picture C

Respondents to the Setapp survey indicated a preference for apps that update automatically.
Image: Sendapp. Respondents to the Setapp survey indicated a preference for apps that update automatically.

About 42% of respondents indicate a preference for cross-platform apps. When purchasing an app, respondents prefer to get all versions, including web and iOS editions. This doesn’t surprise me: I find it simplifies licensing and software administration, especially in SMBs, where multiple sites and licenses are usually at play.

When buying new Mac apps, the average cost a Mac user spends per year is $139. Respondents also have an average of nine paid apps on their Macs. Setapp notes that not all respondents made a distinction between the apps they buy and the amount they spend on in-app purchases.

While I don’t expect users to have to buy the same apps year after year, the $139 total is lower than I expected. Programs I’ve come to rely on, like iA Writer ($49.99 for Mac and an additional $49.99 for iOS and iPadOS) and Pixelmator Pro ($39.99) add up quickly.

Still, with an average purchase price of $139 for Mac apps, the typical business professional using a Mac should find a budget that allows for the purchase of a number of reliable apps, which may not require paying to update again for years—although I fear the trend is shifting.

What are Mac users’ preferences for lifetime app licenses versus subscriptions?

I bought the Affinity Photo Pro photo editing Mac app in August 2019 for $49.99 and thought I was done. Imagine my surprise when I saw Affinity Photo Pro 2 hit the App Store this year for $69.99.

While it’s only fair that developers continue to get paid, I’m learning that the days of buying an application once in the App Store and being done with it are likely over. I’ve already adjusted to the fact that I simply have to pay Microsoft an annual fee for access to its productivity suite, and when professional needs require, I do the same with Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite. However, that doesn’t mean other Mac users appreciate having to buy software subscriptions.

About 36% of respondents said they prefer one-time licenses over lifetime. Only 17% prefer annual subscriptions, with monthly subscriptions even less so (13%).

LOOKS: Setapp’s Mac software service confirms that app subscriptions are here to stay (TechRepublic)

While I no longer put off paying for a Mac app I use, that’s not universally true. Setapp’s Mac app survey confirms that Mac users resist purchasing an application if the app is expensive, free alternatives are available, or if they are unsure that they need to use the program regularly.

Sometimes free apps are enough, but experience has taught me that developers often put premium features like the ability to print or make edits to a file behind a paywall. Once I know I need a software app and it becomes necessary to fulfill daily functions, I’ve learned that paying the license fee speeds up my workflows and proves to be more efficient than continuing to try to save money by leveraging a free but limited app or repeatedly seek trial versions.

How important is M1/M2 chip support when buying Mac apps?

The fact that Macs are increasingly powered by Apple Silicon also affects the choice of apps. Most survey respondents indicate that it is very important (55%) or somewhat important (35%) that the Mac apps they purchase have built-in M1 and M2 chip support.

Setapps survey method for Mac apps

The Setapp survey was conducted online. More than 600 US Mac users aged 18 or older responded. About 45% of respondents said they use a MacBook Pro, while MacBook Airs (34%), Mac Pros (23%), iMacs (20%), Mac minis (6%) and Mac Studios (6%) made up the remainder .

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