Best MacOS tips, OS X tips you need to know

There are hundreds of clever things your Mac can do, here are some of our favourite tips and tricks, including some clever new features in MacOS Sierra

by

  • Welcome
  • Use Siri
  • Copy and Paste
  • Use Apple Pay
  • Sync Desktops
  • Picture-in-picture
  • Photos
  • Auto Unlock
  • Tapback in Messages
  • Read receipts
  • Quick filter Mail
  • Autocapitalisation
  • Notes collaboration
  • Make space
  • Battery savings
  • Cursor locator
  • Stop the cursor
  • Exposé
  • Split View
  • Menu Bar
  • Move Spotlight
  • Safari pins
  • Safari audio
  • Notes
  • Attachments browser
  • Mail swipes
  • Smart Suggestions
  • Public transport
  • Authentication
  • Find My Friends
  • Notification Centre
  • More stories
Next Prev

Best features in MacOS

Welcome to our roundup of the best macOS tips, tricks and secret features. In this article we cover the best new features in macOS Sierra along with some of the most useful features that have been introduced to the Mac operating system over the years.

We also have some lesser-known tricks, tips, hints and hacks for those of you who want to go a bit deaper.

If you'd like to read more out about macOS Sierra, read our macOS Sierra review , check what the latest verison of MacOS is, and find out which Macs can run macOS Sierra.

Turn to the next slide in this feature to start discovering the amazing tips and tricks that will help you get the most out of your Mac.

Next »

Next Prev slideshow image

Welcome to our roundup of the best macOS tips, tricks and secret features. In this article we cover the best new features in macOS Sierra along with some of the most useful features that have been introduced to the Mac operating system over the years.

We also have some lesser-known tricks, tips, hints and hacks for those of you who want to go a bit deaper.

If you'd like to read more out about macOS Sierra, read our macOS Sierra review , check what the latest verison of MacOS is, and find out which Macs can run macOS Sierra.

Turn to the next slide in this feature to start discovering the amazing tips and tricks that will help you get the most out of your Mac.

 

Use Siri on the Mac

When Apple updates the Mac operating system it often borrows features from iOS - and Siri was one of these. 

Siri arrived on the Mac with the MacOS Sierra update in September 2016. 

There are three ways to activate Siri on the Mac:

1) You can access Siri in the Dock at the bottom of your screen (it sits between the icons for the Finder and Launchpad) 

2) You can find Siri in the Menu bar at the top of the screen (look for the purple and blue logo next to the magnifying glass search icon).

3) You can activate Siri by pressing the command key and space bar for a few seconds.

There is also a software button in the Control Strip in the new MacBook Pro's Touch Bar (reviewed here).

IF you are running MacOS Sierra and Siri isn't working for you it may be that you skipped set up during the installation of Sierra. In that case go to System Preferences > Siri and click the box beside Enable Siri.

Now Siri is up and running you can ask some questions:

For example, after clicking on the Siri icon, you can say: "Get me directions to London" or "What's the weather like today".

You can use Siri to change system settings, for example, say "increase brightness" and Siri will brighten up your display for you. Or "turn on bluetooth" to switch on the bluetooth chip, something that saves a lot of time that would have been spent going though System Preferences menus. Try asking "how much space is left" to find out how much storage you still have available.

Unfortunately Siri can't tell you "how many gigabytes of photos do I have".

Siri on the Mac is supposed to remember what you just asked when you ask another question - so in theory you should be able to ask What's the weather like in London, followed by how do i get there, except in our tests it doesn't work. When we asked how do I get there Siri just showed us the weather in our home town like it was trying to tell us not to bother.

Another disappointment was that Siri couldn't play particular tracks, denying that they were in our Music. You should also be able to ask Siri to 'FaceTime Dad", except we were told we needed to continue in the app.

A handy Siri tip: if Siri has misheard you just click on the text where it has attempted to transcribe your words and correct them there before pressing return. You can also use this method to search using Siri without actually saying anything! Well you might need to say one word to get started, but then you can select that word and type in your question - handy if you don't want the person sitting next to you at work to know you were searching for film times for the Lego Batman movie.

OF course you don't have to use Siri to search your Mac, you can still use good old Spotlight (activated by quickly pressing Command and Space). You can even 'speak' to Spotlight in the same sort of way you would Siri since it got 'natural language' search in El Capitan which means you can construct your search query in a more colloquial way, phrasing it in the sort of language you'd use in everyday conversation. For example: "documents I wrote in July" or "photos added today".

Related: Complete guide to Siri for Mac  Plus: How to fix Siri problems and Spotlight tips

Siri has a huge range of commands, covering a wide range of applications and functions.
Here's a taste of what Siri can do on the Mac:

"Show me photos I took in France"
"Mute the volume"
"Tweet I love Macworld" [you can add a hashtag on the end, too: just say "hashtag Macworld is the best" or whatever]
"Have I got any emails from Mandie?"
"How do you spell broccoli?"
"Do not disturb"
"Show me files I worked on yesterday”
"Post on Facebook"

Not everything you can ask Siri on the iPad and iPhone currently applies on the Mac, but a lot of it does. So for some humorous queries, take a look at Funny things to ask Siri.

 

Copy and Paste between devices

Universal Clipboard is an extension to the Continuity features introduced in Mac OS X El Capitan. With Universal Clipboard you can cut and copy items on your macOS and iOS devices, and paste them on to other devices.

This means you can copy and paste text, images, photos and even video between devices without having to resort to AirDropping or mailing them to yourself.

It's a seamless process - if it doesn't work check you have bluetooth turned on on both your Mac and iPhone. 

You just press Control-C on your Mac and then hold down and select Paste on your iPhone (or vice versa). So long as you're logged in using the same Apple ID on both devices, it'll work automatically.

While it's not the most complex feature, we think that Universal Clipboard could be one of the most practical, and useful, new features introduced in macOS Sierra.

It doesn't transfer the file across the Internet. Instead it uses peer-to-peer sharing via Bluetooth (we suspect it's similar to AirDrop).

 

Use Apple Pay on a Mac

Apple Pay, like Siri, has made the leap from iDevices to the Mac in MacOS Sierra. Obviously, you'll not be paying in-store for items using your Mac, but you will be able to shop online and pay with Apple Pay.

So far a number of charities are offering Apple Pay buttons for donations on their sites, they and other compatible websites will display an Apple Pay button.

It beats entering your credit card details online and it has the benefit of not sharing your details with the retailer so you can avoid annoying emails and other promotional activity.

Related: Apple Pay UK Guide: Where you can use Apple Pay, which banks, shops and charities support it

Also: How to set up Apple Pay on your iPhone | How to use Apple Pay on your Mac | How to use your Apple Watch for Apple Pay

 

Sync your Desktops and Documents folder

If you are anything like us your Mac filing system involves everything being saved to the Desktop. One of the best new features that came to MacOS in Sierra is the way that the Desktop now syncs across iCloud - so you can go to your iCloud Drive on any of your devices and access the files and folders on your desktop. This is great if you have more than one Mac because you can essentially merge both desktops together.

It's not just your Desktop that automatically syncs across iCloud Drive, you can also access your Documents folder there too. The only limitation is how much space you have available on iCloud Drive, if you are paying for more than the standard 5GB this could be a useful feature. Luckily prices of iCloud storage have fallen recently: 50GB now costs 79p per month.

To start sharing your Desktop in iCloud go to System Preferences > iCloud. Make sure that iCloud Drive is selected at the top and click on Options. Select Desktop & Documents to share those files.

iCloud will then upload your files to the cloud.

Once you have done this you will be able to access files on your desktop at home anywhere you can log on to the internet. Just go to iCloud.com and log on and then open the Desktop folder there.

Read about how to use iCloud Drive here

 

Picture-in-picture in Safari and YouTube

Another new feature that arrived with Sierra is the ability to watch videos in a small window.

Like so many of the new features on the MacOS, picture-in-picture (PiP) feature is also borrowed from iOS. If you open a video in Safari you can then choose to pin it to the corner of your screen where in theory you can watch it while you continue to go about your tasks on your Mac. We expect that a lot of people will use this to watch sport while they are at work.

PiP doesn't work with all video streaming sites though, and it only works in Safari.

Vimeo already supports the PiP feature. YouTube doesn't officially, yet, but there is a workaround. Start playing your YouTube video and then right click on it. A menu will appear with a blackbackground, but you don't want this menu, so right click again with that menu still on the screen and you will see a new menu with the option to Enter Picture-in-Picture. Click on that and the video will jump to the top right corner of your screen.

 

Memories in Photos

Photos in both macOS and iOS have been languishing behind rivals, such as Google Photos, for a while. But in macOS Sierra, Apple has given Photos a shot in the arm.

The new version of Photos scans your images and can now detect over 4,000 different objects and seven different facial expressions.

It also adds categories to images automatically, using metadata from the photos and tags.

So you can search for things like "birthday cake" or waterfall" and Photos will be able to return the results.

Probably the new feature in El Capitan's version of Photos was support for third-party extensions in Photos, with these extensions being sold via the App Store. Extensions expanded the functionality of Photos tremendously.

Read more: Top tips for setting up and using Photos for Mac

 

Unlock your Mac with Apple Watch

It is now possible to use your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac automatically.

If you're wearing your Apple Watch, and both your Mac, and Watch are running the right version of their respective operating system, then the computer should automatically unlock without requiring a password.

Here's how to set it up: How to log on to your Mac using your Apple Watch

 

Respond to Messages with "Tapback" reactions

Messages in MacOS also borrows heavily from iOS in the Sierra update, as you would expect from an app that started its life on the iPhone.

You can now respond to messages with "Tapback" reactions like those on the iPhone (thumbs up, heart, haha) and large emoji.

Videos and preview links now play inside the message. This means that animated GIFs are also possible.

(Have you noticed that the gun emoji has disappeared, by the way? Apple has engineered its latest OS updates in such a way that the gun emoji unicode displays as a water pistol, in what appears to be a statement of support for anti-gun campaigns. But beware, because the underlying code remains the same, which means that if you send an apparently lighthearted water pistol emoji from your Mac, it will still display as a gun on Android and other platforms. Be careful you don't accidentally send a threat!)

Messages on the Mac is not quite as advanced as the iOS version of Messages, which has animations you can use instead of messages, but you will at least be able to see them on your Mac.

Messages has been given a major makeover across iOS and Mac. To read about these changes in depth, take a look at How to use Messages in iOS 10.

 

Per-conversation read receipts in Messages

Instead of having Messages send a read receipt for every conversation, you can do it on a per-conversation basis.

During a chat session, click on the Details link at the top right of the window. You'll see information on your chat partner, and below you will find a tickbox for 'Send Read Receipts'. Tick the box to activate and you will know when your message has been read.

 

Quick filter in Apple Mail

In your Apple Mail inbox, you'll see a new icon of a circle with an upside-down triangle of lines. Click on it and 'Filtered by' will appear it will filter your email based on what the blue text says. Click on the blue text to adjust the filter.

It appears that the quick filter will not appear if you are using classic view in Mail. To turn off classic view, go to Mail > Preferences > Viewing and then uncheck the box for 'Use classic layout'.

 

Autocapitalisation and full stops

In System Preferences > Keyboard > Text, you get two new options: 'Capitalize words automatically', and 'Add period with double-space'. (A period is a full stop, of course. This US term appears even if you have a British keyboard setup specified.)

If you select these the two new options by ticking in the boxes then the needed capitals will be added in TextEdit, Pages, and similar apps automatically, while hitting space twice in a row will bring up a full stop and following space instead, just like in iOS.

If you're using the new MacBook Pro 2016, incidentally, an option for the new Touch Bar feature will appear below these: 'Touch Bar typing suggestions'.

 

Collaborate in Notes

The Notes app also got a new feature in Sierra. You can now invite others to edit and write in a note.

Next to the Share button on the upper right is a button you can click to 'Add people to this note'. Invites are sent via Mail Messages, Facebook, Twitter and other methods.

The person you share with will get a link to access the shared Note on iCloud.com. If they open the message on an iPhone it will automatically open the note in their Notes folder and the Note will have an icon beside it that shows it is shared - which means either of you can make changes. 

Speaking of Notes, one of the new Notes features that came with El Capitan was he ability ot protect your notes with a password. This can be done by navigating to the Notes app and looking for the Set Password option within the menu bar. 

This will lock your notes with a password - make sure not to forget it.

Also see: How to use the Notes iOS app

 

Free up space with optimized storage

Running out of space on your Mac? When you get the message "Your startup disk is almost full," macOS Sierra will come to your aid.

There are a number of options available to you (you can see them for youself by clicking on the Apple logo top left of the screen, About This Mac > Storage > Manage.

You can choose to store files and photos in iCloud, only keeping recently opened files and optimised photos on the Mac when they are required. You can also choose Optimised Storage, which saves space by removing iTunes movies and TV shows and only keeping recent email attachments. You can also choose for your trash to be emptied periodically. 

Read more about how to save space on your Mac here.

 

Display brightness warning

The latest beta of macOS Sierra, version 10.2.3, includes a new feature that will warn MacBook owners if they've set display brightness so high that it's likely to impact battery life.

If you click the battery icon in the top menu bar on a MacBook, a dropdown menu appears showing your current power source and a few power-related options, and also highlights apps that are placing disproportionate demands on the battery. Even if you discover that the battery-draining apps are ones you cannot do without, you can at least try to cut down a little.

As of macOS 10.2.3, however, the sub-menu of 'Apps Using Significant Energy' will be expanded to a more general 'Using Significant Energy'. As well as power-hungry apps, this will include your display, if the brightness is set above a certain point. (MacRumors says anything above 75 percent will trigger this warning.)

For more power-saving tips, see Tips for better MacBook battery life.

 

Cursor locator

Our favourite feature introduced with El Capitan in 2015 might just be the way to find your cursor.

Just shake your mouse, or wiggle your finger on the trackpad: it's what we all do instinctively, but doing so will now make the cursor grow in size momentarily so you will have no trouble spotting it.

 

How to stop your cursor from getting bigger

For many of us one of the most useful features introduced in El Capitan was the way that you can easily locate your cursor by rapidly rubbing your track pad or moving your mouse quickly, as mentioned in the previous slide.

This is particularity useful if you have more than one monitor and lose your cursor often.

However, some people need to move their cursor rapidly for other reasons, perhaps when using illustration apps.

It is possible to disable this cursor behaviour if you need to. Go to System Preferences > Accessibility > Display and deselect Shake mouse pointer to locate.

 

El Capitan Exposé

An older Exposé behaviour returned to the Mission Control view in El Capitan.

In Mac OS X Yosemite, when you pressed F3 (or the key that represents Mission Control on your keyboard - if it's a Mac keyboard it will be marked with three small boxes), documents associated with apps were gathered together, overlapping each other.

In El Capitan things became a little simpler and clearer - and in our opinion, better. You'll see minimised views of all the documents you had open so you can see and select the one you want.

Read next: How to use Mission Control

 

Split View in full-screen mode

An improved full-screen mode introduced in El Capitan lets you have more than one app open at once.  

Clicking and dragging the green window-resize button activates a new Split View that fills the screen with two apps at once; users can choose the amount of space given to each app.

Note that some apps won't work with Split View. Apparently the Office apps are not compatible with it.

 

Hide the Menu Bar

El Capitan added an option in System Preferences > General that allows users to 'Automatically hide and show the menu bar' in a similar vein to the way users can choose to hide the Dock.

This will be especially beneficial to users of smaller laptops such as the 11-inch MacBook Air or the 12-inch MacBook, where every pixel counts.

Related: 34 Mac keyboard shortcuts you need to know

 

Moving the Spotlight window

One of the biggest frustrations people had in Yosemite was the fact that the Spotlight window was fixed to the middle of the screen.

Since El Capitan you have been able to click on the Spotlight result box and move it around the screen. Simple but deeply gratifying.

 

Pin Tabs in Safari

In Safari you can 'Pin' favourite sites to the menu bar - a simple way of adding a shortcut to Facebook or YouTube.

Go to Window > Pin Tab. Or just right-click on the tab and select Pin Tab from the menu that appears.

Read more about Safari on the Mac.

 

How to tell which Safari tabs are playing audio

Since El Capitan Safari has been able to identify which of your open tabs is playing audio.

It's possible to mute the audio with a single click on that tab, too: click and choose Mute this Tab.

 

Add PDFs, URLs and maps to Notes

Another addition to El Capitan was the ability of Notes to handle photos and PDFs, URLs and map locations as well as text.

To add a map location you need to click the Share icon and choose Notes, then you can choose to add the map location to the note of your choice. Double-click on the location in Notes to load up the map.

You will also be able to format that text, including an option that will turn a list into a checklist.

Read more: How to use the Notes app on a Mac

 

Viewing attachments in Notes

There's also an attachments browser in Notes on the Mac, just like the one on the iPhone and iPad, that you can flick through to find all the media, websites and other attachments you've added to the app from any of your devices.

Click on the icon that represents four small squares.

 

Swipe to delete in Mail

There are two gestures in Mail that arrived in El Capitan on a laptop that would be familiar to iOS users: swiping left to delete an email, and swiping right to mark it as unread.

You can also minimise an email you are composing, just as you can in iOS. And you can open multiple tabs when you're composing emails.

When El Capitan first launched there were some issues with Mail. Read more about them here: El Capitan issues, fixes and updates

 

Smart suggestions in Mail

The Mail app gained a new feature in El Capitan called Smart Suggestions. These scour your mail messages for names and events and prompt you to add them to your contacts or calendar.

There had previously been a more limited feature in OS X that recognises email addresses and other contact information, but Smart Suggestions vastly improved on that.

 

Public transport (transit) in Maps

It seems hard to believe it, but it wasn't until El Capitan that Apple Maps gained a Transit mode. This displays direction information using public transport.

The new route options cover bus, subway, light rail, train and ferry directions.

Given that many of us in the UK use public transport to get around (especially in larger cities) it was a welcome addition, although it took a while before more than a small percentage of the UK gained transit options. We're glad to say things have improved somewhat since the launch.

Read more: How to use Maps on a Mac

 

New two-factor authentication system

In El Capitan Apple replaced the two-step authentication system, used by security-conscious types, with a new system called two-factor authentication.

Two-step sends a code to your telephone whenever you log on from a new device. Even if another person has your password, they can't log on without the code. There's also a permanent security key that you're supposed to print out and keep safe in case you lose your phone and password.

Two-factor authentication does away with all of this and uses a system where you use Apple devices, such as the iPhone, to approve authentication of other devices as you log in. It's similar to the system used by iCloud Keychain to approve devices.

Read more about the new security enhancements that arrived in El Capitan here: New security features in El Capitan & iOS 9

 

Find My Friends in Notification Centre

A widget for Find My Friends also arrived in El Capitan. This widget enables you to add Find My Friends to the Notification Centre.

Though some find it a bit 'stalkery' Find My Friends is a helpful feature, especially if you combine it with Family Sharing, so you can see where all members of your family are. Being able to add it to Notification Centre makes it much more accessible.

 

Sort Notification Centre by apps

Since El Capitan you have been able to change notifications to group by app, which makes the list a little less daunting, and it certainly makes it easier to remove notifications you are't interested in.

Go to System Preferences > Notifications and then beside Notification Centre sort order, select Recents by App. 

Huawei P10 review

Huawei P10 review

1995-2015: How technology has changed the world in 20 years

1995-2015: How technology has changed the world in 20 years

How VR is being used to simulate space

How VR is being used to simulate space

New iPad, iPhone SE & Red iPhone 7 on sale now

New iPad, iPhone SE & Red iPhone 7 on sale now