25 best tips & tricks for Mac OS X El Capitan

Mac OS X El Capitan launched on 30 September 2015 and we keep discovering clever things it can do. Here are our 25 favourite tips, tricks and clever new features in Mac OS X El Capitan.

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  • New features
  • Cursor locator
  • Stop the cursor
  • Exposé
  • Split View
  • Menu Bar
  • Spotlight
  • Move Spotlight
  • Safari pins
  • Safari audio
  • Notes
  • Attachments browser
  • Mail swipes
  • New font
  • Smart Suggestions
  • Photos extensions
  • Metal
  • Photos Faces
  • Public transport
  • Authentication
  • Find My Friends
  • Notification Centre
  • Disk Utility
  • Beachball
  • Trackpad controls
  • Live Photos
  • Password protect Notes
  • More stories
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Best new features in El Capitan

With Mac OS X El Capitan (which arrived on Macs on 30 September 2015), Apple is focusing on performance and introducing only a handful of new features - but the feature set makes up in quality for what it lacks in quantity.

Among the enhancements in the next version of Mac OS X there will be tweaks to the interface, new full-screen views, changes to the way you arrange all the windows on your desktop, a smarter Spotlight, and changes to the Safari, Notes and Photos apps.

Turn to the next slide in this feature to start discovering 25 amazing tips and tricks that will help you get the most out of Mac OS X El Capitan's new features and improvements.

The latest 10.11.6 update brings increased stability and bug fixes.

It should be noted that El Capitan has been succeeded by macOS Sierra.

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With Mac OS X El Capitan (which arrived on Macs on 30 September 2015), Apple is focusing on performance and introducing only a handful of new features - but the feature set makes up in quality for what it lacks in quantity.

Among the enhancements in the next version of Mac OS X there will be tweaks to the interface, new full-screen views, changes to the way you arrange all the windows on your desktop, a smarter Spotlight, and changes to the Safari, Notes and Photos apps.

Turn to the next slide in this feature to start discovering 25 amazing tips and tricks that will help you get the most out of Mac OS X El Capitan's new features and improvements.

The latest 10.11.6 update brings increased stability and bug fixes.

It should be noted that El Capitan has been succeeded by macOS Sierra.

 

Cursor locator

Our favourite feature 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 new features in El Capitan is 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 has returned to the Mission Control view.

In Mac OS X Yosemite, when you press 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 are gathered together, overlapping each other.

In El Capitan things are 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: New features in Mission Control in El Capitan

 

Split View in full-screen mode

An improved full-screen mode 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

A new option in System Preferences > General 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.

Read next: 34 Mac keyboard shortcuts you need to know

 

Natural-language Spotlight

Spotlight is also getting 'natural language' search. (Does this mean, incidentally, that Siri may be coming to the Mac? We're not so sure.)

This means you'll be able to 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".

Read next: Spotlight tips for El Capitan

 

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.

In El Capitan you can click on the Spotlight result box and move it around the screen. Simple but deeply gratifying.

You can also check the weather and sports scores directly, from Spotlight!

 

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.

Read more about Safari on the Mac.

 

How to tell which Safari tabs are playing audio

Safari will also identify which of your open tabs is playing audio, just as Chrome for the Mac has done for a while now.

Unlike in Chrome, 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

Notes will 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 a new attachments browser in Notes 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 new gestures in Mail that will 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

 

New System Font: San Francisco

Don't underestimate the significance of Apple's decision to move the system font of OS X from Helvetica Neue to San Francisco. The system font is massively important to the way people experience an operating system.

Helvetica was designed before the computer, and while it's a great font, its limitations are becoming more obvious over time. San Francisco has been designed with screens in mind, and small, high-resolution screens (such as the Retina display) in particular.

 

Smart suggestions in Mail

The Mail app has a new feature 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 is vastly improved.

 

Third-party extensions in Photos

As a replacement for the aging iPhoto, Photos has won many admirers. Although Photos has had more than a few detractors in its own right, especially among more advanced photographers.

Support for third-party extensions in Photos is due alongside OS X El Capitan, and they will be sold via the App Store. Extensions expand the functionality of Photos tremendously, and they were a popular feature in iOS 8.

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

 

Metal: Making your Mac faster

Another feature that's massively important but easy to overlook is Metal, Apple's new graphics API.

Apple enables developers to offload graphics processing tasks to OS X without having to do the number crunching. The performance gains in apps like Photoshop and video games are tremendous.

Performance gains are said to be up to 40 per cent, according to Apple; some developers have claimed seeing speed gains of up to 70 percent compared with tests using its predecessor OpenGL.

Read more: Complete guide to Apple Metal, and what it means for Mac, iPad and iPhone

 

Photos: Streamlined Faces features

One of the neater features from iPhoto that's also present in Photos, but far too hidden, is Faces. The Faces feature learns what you and your friends look like, and then searches for them automatically in your photo collection.

In El Capitan, Apple has made the Faces feature more streamlined and more prominent. Thanks to the faster nature of Photos this will make Faces a much more central part of tagging your images.

It's also easier to update Location information in your photographs.

Read more about Photos for Mac here: How to use the Photos app in Mac OS X:

 

Public transport (transit) in Maps

Apple Maps now has 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's a welcome addition, but coverage remains limited for the time being.

London is covered, as are the following cities overseas: Baltimore, Berlin, Chicago, Mexico City, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington D.C. (And lots of cities in China.) We expect further areas in the UK and US to follow swiftly.

Read more: How to use Maps on a Mac

 

New two-factor authentication system

Apple is replacing the two-step authentication system, used by security-conscious types, with a new system called two-factor authentication.

Two-step (the current system) 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 coming in El Capitan here: New security features in El Capitan & iOS 9

 

Find My Friends in Notification Centre

There's a new widget for Find My Friends. This widget enables you to add Find My Friends to the Notification Centre.

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

In El Capitan you can change notifications to group by app, which might make 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. 

 

All-new Disk Utility with refreshed interface

Disk Utility is an absolute stalwart of OS X, and an app that we have used on countless occasions to set up, manage and repair drives on various Macs.

So we are delighted to see that Disk Utility has had a complete refresh for OS X El Capitan and now sports a whole new interface. The new look seems similar in style to the refreshed System Information app in Mavericks.

We've got much more detail on this subject here: What's new in El Capitan Disk Utility?

 

New-look spinning beachball

There's a whole new beachball in El Capitan. The icon has had a visual refresh, and it's much brighter and more obvious than before.

The wait cursor, unofficially known as the Spinning Beachball, Spinning Wheel of Death or SPOD, is the graphic used when the Mac is busy. It's rarely a pleasant icon to encounter, and on modern Macs it typically indicates that something is going wrong (especially if it's onscreen for more than a few moments).

It's nice to see that even the unpopular icons get a little love.

Read more: Our review of Mac OS X El Capitan and Features in OS X 10.12, successor to El Capitan: Wishlist

 

MacBook trackpad

All new MacBooks (2015 and later) have the option to use the new Force Touch option, which allows you to silently tap your touchpad and select something on your screen.

You can enable this by going into to System Preferences > Trackpad > Point & Click. From this option, select the 'Silent Clicking' option.

 

Messages now with Live Photos

With the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus having the ability to take and view Live Photos, in El Capitan 10.11.4 and above you can now view these Live Photos through the Messages application.

You'll also be able to directly share the LIve Photos from your Mac through the share option within certain apps, such as Photos.

 

Protect your Notes with a password

In the iOS 9.3 update Apple brought out a few nifty features including the ability to password-protect your notes (see screenshot).

This feature has carried over to OS X, whereby you can now 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 app in iOS 9.

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