All the awesome things you forgot your Mac could do
Your Mac can do millions of things, but sometimes even the best of us forget some of the cool stuff it can do – so we’re here to help jog your memory.
Some of these tips need recent versions of the Mac operating system (OS) – such as OS X 10.11 El Capitan or even the new macOS Sierra – but not all of them do. In some cases, some are little features that Apple has sneaked into upgrades that you might have totally missed, and some might be a classic lightbulb moment of “I’d totally forgotten you could do that!”
This is neither a formal nor an exhaustive list; we’ve just put our heads together to gather the 50 tips we think are awesome.
1. Do unit conversions in Spotlight
As well as being able to do calculations in Spotlight, in Yosemite it gets an extra trick: unit conversions. You can do specific unit conversions if you need to – “13 stone in lbs”, say – but it’s also intelligent enough that in many cases if you just give it the amount and unit you want to convert, it will suggest not just the likely conversion but also plenty of alternates.
Type in ‘$1299’ and you’ll immediately be told what that is in Sterling (based presumably on what’s set as your native currency in the Language & Region pane of System Preferences), and then when the window folds down to show more results, you’ll see Euros, Yen and so on.
2. Talk to and listen to your Mac!
Before macOS Sierra, the Mac’s ability to listen to you as well as talk was already really impressive with its Dictation tool. But now, that’s been blown out of the water by Siri’s long-awaited arrival on Apple’s desktops and laptops.
By either pressing and holding the Command and Space or clicking the icon on your Dock or Menu Bar, you can summon the same Siri you’ve grown accustomed to on your iPhone. However, this version of Siri is, in ways, much more powerful.
Beyond the standard query that might give you the weather or who’s up in the in playoff game, Siri on macOS Sierra can toggle system functions like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth or even pull up individuals files stored on your system based on what you tell Siri about the file.
Siri can even launch or close apps for you as well as store the results of your queries inside the Notifications area of the OS for later use. Just press Command+Space and get to asking.
3. Run Windows
We know, we know – who wants to run Windows? But sometimes it’s handy, whether to play the latest games or run some niche piece of software that has no Mac equivalent.
You can either run Windows alongside macOS with a virtualization app such as VMware Fusion, Parallels Desktop or VirtualBox, or partition your hard disk to install Windows on to run it full-bore on your hardware using Boot Camp Assistant (in your Utilities folder).
4. Type exotic characters
As well as letters and symbols you see on your keyboard, you can type a bewildering array of special characters. You may already be familiar with typing accents such as for café (in that case you either type Option+E then E again or, on OS X 10.7 or later, hold down the E until you get extra options) but you’ll find there are many more.
Go to the Edit menu of most apps and you’ll see Special Characters at the bottom. This panel gives you access to a huge range of symbols you can drag into your documents. Not all apps or operating systems support them, but these are mostly part of the cross-platform Unicode standard. There are probably more than you see at first, too; click the cog to reveal more.
Emoji (those fun, colourful characters available in OS X 10.7 or later) are a notable exception to this cross-platform world. They’re not Apple-only, but your recipient might not be able to see them.
5. Sign PDFs right in Mail
It might be the 21st century, but we’re still using squiggles on a piece of paper to agree to all manner of things. If you are emailed a PDF to sign, though, you don’t have to faff about printing it, signing it, then scanning it back in: you can actually sign it right in Mail.
Drag a PDF into the email you’re sending, hover over it then at the top right you’ll see a little button appear; click it, and you get a range of Markup options, including one for signing documents. Best of all, you can either add your signature by holding a signed piece of paper up to the webcam on your Mac – and it does a great job of cutting it out of the background – or by drawing on your trackpad.
Got an iPad stylus? Try using that instead of your finger!
6. Batch rename files
In versions of OS X before Yosemite, renaming a group of files at once either meant third-party software or rolling your own rename script using something like Automator or AppleScript. Now, though, you can just select a group of files and then select Rename either from the right-click contextual menu or from the drop-down button marked with a cog icon in Finder windows.
When you do, you get the option of adding text, replacing text, or applying a format such as a name and an automatically incrementing counter.
7. Use Split Screen
Working with two windows or apps side-by-side became much easier since OS X 10.11 El Capitan, thanks to Split Screen view. By holding down a left-click on an app’s green maximize button in the top-left hand side, you can then drag it to be positioned on the left or right-hand side of the display.
You’ll then need to pick a second open window or app to snap to the opposite side. Split Screen obscures the launcher and OS X’s Menu Bar, so you get a bit more screen real-estate and fewer distractions.
Dividing the separating line between the two apps lets you make them smaller or larger, which can come in handy for keeping an eye on live information such as sports scores at one end while being productive on the other.
8. Make a keyboard shortcut for anything
Keyboard shortcuts are great for saving time, but you’re not limited to just the shortcuts put in by developers; if there’s a particular menu option you use all the time that doesn’t have a shortcut, you can create it yourself.
Go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Application Shortcuts. Click the + button to add a new shortcut. You can choose which app you want to apply it to from the drop-down list, but you must know the exact name of the menu command to type into the next box, including the correct case and any special characters such as ellipses. Lastly, choose a unique key combination to invoke the command, then click Add.
9. View someone’s screen remotely
One really easy way to view someone else’s screen or even control their Mac over the internet – which is invaluable if you’re helping troubleshoot a relative’s computer problems – is to launch Screen Sharing by searching for it with Spotlight then entering the Apple ID of the person you’re trying to contact. (If you or they don’t know it, just have them look in the iCloud pane of System Preferences. And while they’re there, make sure Screen Sharing is enabled in the Sharing pane of System Preferences.)
They’ll be asked to grant you permission to view their screen, and they can also then click on the screen sharing icon in the menu bar and grant you the ability to virtually, remotely control their mouse and keyboard too.
10. Close tabs left open on other devices
Whether because you suddenly realise you’ve left a dodgy tab open on an iPad you’ve just handed to a colleague or because it’s just flat-out easier to go through and close a bunch of tabs on your Mac rather than on an iOS device, you should know that you can close tabs open on any device signed into your Apple ID from Safari since Yosemite.
Click the icon that looks like two overlapping squares in Safari (or choose Show All Tabs from the View menu) and you’ll see all your open tabs on all your devices. Hover over each and you’ll see a close button you can click. (This also works from iOS to Mac; swipe right to left on a cloud tab in its tab view and tap Delete; that tab will then be closed on the Mac.