27 secret features in Mac OS X El Capitan

There are plenty of hidden features in Apple's latest OS X - El Capitan. Here are 27 amazing new features to check out in El Capitan


  • car Get reminded
  • preview Gestures in Finder
  • diskutility Disk Utility
  • flight Track Flights
  • rename Rename files and folders
  • spotlight Recentre the Spotlight window
  • screen shot 2016 04 14 at 16 57 25 Bye bye Menu bar
  • reader Read better
  • screen shot 2016 04 14 at 16 56 35 Pin your favourite sites
  • applepay Apple Pay
  • swipe Swipe everywhere
  • migration Migrate better
  • movingsplitview Split View Masterclass
  • adblock Block ads
  • entrances Ins and outs
  • marks Marks in the terminal
  • mute Audio muting
  • 1 file rename File rename
  • 2 pathname Copy as Pathname
  • 3 natural language Natural Language
  • 4 enchanced dictation Enhanced Dictation
  • 5 transit Maps transit
  • 6 transit directions Transit Directions
  • 7 find friends Find My Friends
  • 8 mail full screen Full Screen Mail
  • 9 mail tabs Mail tabs
  • 10 audio Audio notes
  • More stories
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Get reminded in your car

If you’ve paired your Mac with Bluetooth in your car, you’ll notice there’s an additional option in the Reminders app should you choose to be reminded of an entry – just click the Location checkbox, and then select either Getting In Car, or Getting out of Car. For what it’s worth, these same options appear on the iPhone and iPad’s Reminder app if you’ve paired your device with the car. This feature works with any and all cars that you’ve associated with your Mac via Bluetooth.

Read next: macOS Sierra vs Mac OS X El Capitan | Mac security tips

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Next Prev car

If you’ve paired your Mac with Bluetooth in your car, you’ll notice there’s an additional option in the Reminders app should you choose to be reminded of an entry – just click the Location checkbox, and then select either Getting In Car, or Getting out of Car. For what it’s worth, these same options appear on the iPhone and iPad’s Reminder app if you’ve paired your device with the car. This feature works with any and all cars that you’ve associated with your Mac via Bluetooth.

Read next: macOS Sierra vs Mac OS X El Capitan | Mac security tips


Gestures in Finder’s preview pane

Finder gained a useful preview pane in Yosemite and if it isn’t already visible on your Mac, just click View -> Show Preview (although do be aware that it can’t be viewed in Cover Flow mode). In El Capitan the preview pane is boosted with the same trackpad/Magic Mouse gestures you might use elsewhere, which can really help when viewing pictures or media. For example, place the mouse cursor over the preview pane while viewing a picture and you can use the same pinch-expand gesture as you might use in Preview. While playing a video you can cue back and forth using the two-finger scroll gesture, just like you might in QuickTime Player.


Disk Utility

As we’ve already mentioned in our earlier tips round-up, El Capitan introduced a whole new version of Disk Utility that, while a bit prettier, lost many features we’re used to. However, it turns out most of these features have either moved to other OS X components or been hidden. For example, the ability to burn disc images to CD/DVD-R/RW disks has been moved to Finder – just fight click your .iso file and select the Burn Disc Image option. To erase a CD-RW/DVD-RW disc, just right-click the optical drive’s entry in Finder under the Devices heading, and select the Erase Rewritable Disc option. One thing mourned by many is the Repair Permissions feature. Apple says the new System Integrity Protection (SIP) makes this redundant but we’re not too sure. However, it’s still possible to repair permissions in El Capitan. It’s just buried as a command-line system tool. To access it, open Terminal, which you’ll find in the Utilities folder within the Applications list, and then paste-in the following: 

sudo /usr/libexec/repair_packages --repair --standard-pkgs --volume /

You’ll need to type your password when prompted and then wait while the command completes. If you’re lucky there’ll be no output, which means everything is fine. Anything that’s incorrect will be reported and then fixed automatically, as used to happen with the old permissions repair tool.


Track Flights

Over recent releases, OS X has become very good at recognising things like addresses and parcel numbers – just right-click and select the Look Up option, or force touch if you have a compatible trackpad. New to El Capitan is the ability to recognise flight numbers too – just force press on a flight number in an email, for example, and a pop-up window will appear showing details (including even a map!). If you lack a trackpad then you might be able to right-click instead and select the Look Up option from the menu that appears, although in our tests this was a little unreliable.


Rename files and folders while saving

It’s the little things that make all the difference, so how about this one: when saving a file using the “expanded” File > Save As dialog box (i.e. after you’ve clicked the little arrow alongside the filename so you can see your files and folders), you can right-click any file or folder in order to rename it there and then without any need to invoke Finder. This is very useful if you want to use a filename that’s already in use. Believe it or not, this feature is completely new to El Capitan, although it’s limited to list and Cover Flow views, and isn’t available when icon view is being used. And for what it’s worth, the right-click menu in El Capitan’s Finder has also gained a similar rename option that wasn’t present before now!


Recentre the Spotlight window

We’ve already mentioned how El Capitan’s Spotlight window can be moved around by simply dragging it, but did you know that you can return it to the centre of the screen instantly and automatically by clicking and holding the Spotlight icon at the top right of the desktop? Neat! This works even if you’ve already typed something into the Spotlight window, which is to say, performing this particular trick means what you’ve typed won’t be deleted.


Hide the menu bar

While the ability to hide the Dock when not in use has been around for quite some time, the Menu bar has been a constant variable of Apple’s OS X since its launch back in 1984, never disappearing from our screens. That was until the introduction of OS X El Capitan, which introduces the ability to hide the menu bar. While it doesn’t really matter for those using a large 27in iMacs, users of smaller Mac laptops may appreciate the extra screen real estate.

To hide the menu bar, simply open System Preferences > General and then click “Automatically hide and show the menu bar”. From then on the menu bar will disappear when not in use, only appearing again when you glide your mouse towards the top of the screen.


Read better in Safari

Reader view in Safari is one of the gems of OS X and although introduced way back in 2010, in El Capitan it’s been significantly boosted. Reader mode turns a web page into little more than pictures and paragraphs of text, stripping out everything that’s not needed, such as adverts. Effectively, it turns the web page into something like a print magazine page. It’s activated by clicking the paragraph symbol alongside the URL on web pages that are compatible (and only those with decent amounts of text are, with Safari automatically detecting in each case). New to El Cap is the ability to change the colour of the background and the font used for the text. In fact, what’s on offer is a little like the page layout options within the iBooks app. To access the feature, first activate Reader mode and then click the aA icon to the right of the URL field. Then select from the pop-up window.


Pin tabs in Safari

We all have a website that we frequently visit, whether it’s a social network like Facebook or a search engine like Google, and Apple has introduced a way to give it a permanent home in your tabs bar without bookmarking it. Safari in OS X El Capitan offers the ability to ‘pin’ tabs to the Safari tabs bar, making them readily available for you at the click of a button.

To pin a website to Safari’s tab bar, simply right click the tab and select ‘Pin Tab’ – it’s also worth noting that this can be done from the Window menu, but right clicking is faster and easier. The website will then be permanently pinned to the tab menu, regardless of if you close the app completely. Once you’ve had enough of the pin, simply right click the icon and click Unpin tab to remove it from the tabs bar.


Do you take Apple Pay?

Apple Pay is all new to the iPhone and iPad and while the Mac will never directly support it -- who wants to hold up their Mac to a PIN machine in shops?! – if you want to know if a shop or restaurant you’re about to visit accepts Apple Pay you can use the Maps app to select it, then click the (i) icon within the pop-up window to view its info. Beneath the address details might be an Apple Pay symbol.


Swipe everywhere

As we mentioned in our initial look at El Capitan’s new features, you can swipe left or right using the trackpad or Magic Mouse within the Mail list of messages to delete them, or mark them as unread (bonus tip: if you’re a Gmail user you can switch the swipe left gesture to archive instead of delete using the Viewing tab of Mail’s Preferences dialog box). However, swiping isn’t just limited to Mail. As on your iPad or iPhone you can also swipe in Notes or Reminders, for example, to delete a message or a Reminders list. In fact, if you’re shown any kind of list within the built-in apps then it’s worth attempting to swipe to see if the gesture works! It can save a lot of time.


Migrate better

Migration Assistant, which can be found in the Utilities folder of the Applications list, is a golden oldie app that’s been around for a long time and which makes it very simple to copy across data from a Windows PC, or another Mac. Over recent years it hasn’t worked terribly well, causing many people to avoid it, but in El Capitan it’s received a bit of welcome love. For example, while the data is being copied you’ll see a progress display showing minutes left, plus the data transfer rate. If nothing else you will be able to see if the transfer has stalled. Additionally, Migration Assistant now uses peer-to-peer Wi-Fi wherever possible, which makes for speedier transfers.


Split View Masterclass

Split View allows you to run two apps full-screen at the same time with each app taking up one side of the screen area. There’s a handful of ways to create a Split View but the simplest is to press and hold the green maximise/full screen blob at the top left of first app. Then position the app window where you want it to go (that is, left or right on the screen), and select the app for the other side from the Expose-style display that subsequently appears. However, here are some less than obvious tips for using Split View: 

  1. Double-clicking the dividing split line between the two apps will automatically assign each app an equal 50% of the screen space – useful if you’ve previously dragged the split bar and want to reset it.
  2. By dragging the toolbar of the app you can swap the apps between left and right positions on the screen.
  3. However, if the app has a optional sidebar – as Mail, Calendar and Safari do, for example – then positioning that app at the left is best because you can then bump the mouse cursor into the left edge of the screen to cause the sidebar to appear. It’ll disappear again when you move your mouse cursor out of that area. For what it’s worth, this also works when an app is full-screen without Split View being used.

Blocks ads with less CPU overhead

Just like the version of Safari used in iOS, Safari in El Capitan features built-in content blocking. Put simply, this means you can now use certain extensions to block ads or tracking technologies at a more fundamental level than before, saving on CPU power and battery life compared to previous ad-blocking efforts. Unfortunately, there’s no way to identify which extensions use the new contenting blocking system other than examining the home page of each and hoping the developers mention it. For example, the Nope ad-blocking extension states that it does. If the extension is also available for iOS devices, or states it’s only compatible with Safari version 9 and above, then that’s also a pretty good indication. Good examples include Kablock and Angel, but there’s a growing selection to choose from.


See the ins and outs of stations

If your city is covered by transit information – and at the time of writing that’s only London if you’re in the UK – then zooming into a particular overground or Underground station within the Maps app will also show its entrances and exits as small orange squares right there on the map. You might have to zoom in quite a bit to see them, though! This can be done using the pinch-expand gesture on a trackpad, or using the +/- controls at the bottom right of the program window. Note that anything marked Entrance is likely to also be an exit, while anything labelled Exit Only will – as the label suggests – be a solely way of escaping!


Marks in the terminal

Here’s one for the geeks! When working at the command-line in Terminal within El Capitan, you might notice grey square brackets appear in the left and right margins alongside any command you type. These are called marks, and let you quickly identify a command within many screens of command output. In fact, you can scroll instantly back to the previous mark – that is, to the previous command – by tapping Cmd+Up on the keyboard, and scroll down again using Cmd+Down. You can explore other options provided by marks using the Edit > Marks menu.


Safari audio muting masterclass

The ability to mute the sound playing within tabs in Safari is a headline feature of El Capitan and can be achieved by clicking the small speaker icon at the right of the tab, or the speaker icon at the right of the URL field. Clicking again will unmute the audio. However, you might also try these tricks:

  1. If you hold down the Alt key (Option on some keyboards) and click the speaker icon for a current tab, the audio output of all OTHER tabs will be instantly muted.
  2. Hold down the Ctrl key while clicking the speaker icon and you’ll be shown a pop-out list of all tabs that are currently making noise. Clicking any entry will switch you to that tab.

File rename: Finally you can rename files from the contextual menu

We're not wholly sure why this one was missing for so long, but you can now rename files in Finder by Control-clicking them and choosing Rename.

This will make OS X a lot friendlier for Windows users, who've had similar functionality for a long time. It's still a lot quicker and easier to just press the Return key, though.

See also:

Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan release date rumours, launching 30 Sept

Bring OS X El Capitan features to your Mac

21 brilliant tips for Mac OS X El Capitan

Which Macs run OS X 10.11 El Capitan


Copy as Pathname: handy for users who like the command line

OS X power users will appreciate this one. Control-click a file in Finder and hold down the Option key. The Copy command changes to Copy as Pathname. This copies the path to the file into the clipboard, and you can paste it into Terminal or a text document. It's a really handy tool for power users and programmers.


Natural Language in Spotlight

The more time we get to spend with Spotlight, the more we see how powerful it is becoming. For one thing, Apple has implemented Natural language functionality in Spotlight, so you no longer have to use keywords like author:lucy or kind:document.

Spotlight now runs your search through a Natural Language processor enabling it to detect phrases. So you can say "photographs from last week" or "emails from Kate with attachments" and Spotlight will deliver.


Using Spotlight with Enhanced Dictation: Get a Siri-like experience on your Mac

The continuing absence of Siri on the Mac is a bit of a sore point, to be honest. We were hoping for Siri a few operating systems ago.

You can get a pretty close approximation to Siri, however, by combining Enhanced Dictation with the new Natural Language feature in Spotlight.

Open System Preferences > Dictation and Speech and set Dictation to On. Ensure that the Use Enhanced Dictation option is selected. Now open Spotlight (Command-Space) and use the Dictation Shortcut (double-tap Function on most Macs). You can speak your request directly into Spotlight, just as you would with Siri.


Maps transit: Find your way around on public transport

Apple has introduced public transport information in the form of Transit in Maps. Open the Maps app and click Transit to display all the local bus routes and train lines. The London Underground looks particularly nice overlaid on Maps.

Click on a bus stop, underground station or train station and click the Info (i) button to get detailed information about departures.


Transit Directions: Get from A to B on public transport

As well as getting the latest bus and train times, you can also get directions from A to B using Transit.

Click on Directions and enter your Start and End location. Now click Transit and you'll get the latest route times. Switch Leaving Soon to Leaving in 30 minutes, 60 minutes and Two hours if you're not ready to go right now.


Find My Friends widget: Keep tabs on your friends in Notification Centre

The new Find My Friends widget in the Notifications Centre is a real gem.

Open Notification Centre and click Edit. Next, click the green Add icon next to Find My Friends. Now, whenever you open Notification Centre you'll get a quick heads-up of where all your friends are.


Mail in Full Screen mode is a lot more usable

The Mail app is a whole lot more usable in Full Screen mode.

Click the Full Screen icon in a Mail window and start a new message. You can now switch from the mail editing window to the Mailboxes by clicking on them, the Mail edit window drops to the bottom of the screen.


Mail tabs: Write more than one message at a time

The Mail app now supports tabs, just like Safari and Finder windows. Switch to Mail in Full Screen mode and press Command-N to start a new message, press Command-N again and you'll start another new message in a tabbed window. Click the tabs to switch between the two text editing windows.


Add audio recordings to Notes

The new Notes app has a lot of enhanced text editing features. In amongst this you might overlook the fact that it now supports video and audio playback. Drag-and-drop any file to Notes to attach that media clip to the note.

This is particularly interesting because it's really easy in OS X to create an audio recording using QuickTime. Open QuickTime Player and choose File > New Audio recording. Record your audio memo and then drag it to a note.

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