Mac tricks: 10 Things You Didn't Know Your Mac Could Do

Macs are incredible computers but with a little secret knowledge and a handful of add-in apps you’ll be stunned by what they’re capable of

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  • Display iOS gameplay
  • Run Windows apps natively
  • Grab contact photos
  • Beam movies to your telly
  • Use Android games and apps
  • Create a file server
  • Run vintage Mac OS
  • Rescue files
  • Speak what you want
  • English usage
  • More stories
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Display iPad and iPhone gameplay

Beaming iOS games to your TV is possible via an Apple TV box and AirPlay, and is great for sharing your fun with others, but what if you want to show iOS output on your Mac’s screen? 

If your Mac is running Yosemite or later, and your device is running iOS 8 and has a Lightning USB connector, you’ve everything you need. Just attach the iOS device to your Mac, then start QuickTime Player on the Mac.  Click File > New Movie Recording, and you’ll see QuickTime Player attempt to record via your Mac’s iSight camera. However, if you click the small down arrow next to the record button on the controller you can select your iOS device under the Camera and Microphone headings.

There’s no need to actually record anything, and moving the mouse cursor out of the window will hide the controls and window border. You can even switch the QuickTime Player window to full-screen in the usual way by clicking the green maximise button. 

Not got the hardware or software required? Try using AirServer, which runs on a Mac or PC and works with any iOS device capable of AirPlay (i.e. iOS 4.2 or later). 

Read: How to use System Preferences in Mac OS X Yosemite

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Beaming iOS games to your TV is possible via an Apple TV box and AirPlay, and is great for sharing your fun with others, but what if you want to show iOS output on your Mac’s screen? 

If your Mac is running Yosemite or later, and your device is running iOS 8 and has a Lightning USB connector, you’ve everything you need. Just attach the iOS device to your Mac, then start QuickTime Player on the Mac.  Click File > New Movie Recording, and you’ll see QuickTime Player attempt to record via your Mac’s iSight camera. However, if you click the small down arrow next to the record button on the controller you can select your iOS device under the Camera and Microphone headings.

There’s no need to actually record anything, and moving the mouse cursor out of the window will hide the controls and window border. You can even switch the QuickTime Player window to full-screen in the usual way by clicking the green maximise button. 

Not got the hardware or software required? Try using AirServer, which runs on a Mac or PC and works with any iOS device capable of AirPlay (i.e. iOS 4.2 or later). 

Read: How to use System Preferences in Mac OS X Yosemite

 

Run Windows apps natively

There’s still a handful of Windows-only apps that many people rely upon, such as the Quicken financial software. A solution is provided by CrossOver Mac, which is a commercial version of the Wine project that aims to recreate the Windows under-the-hood components on both Linux and Mac. 

It’s not cheap at £38 but there’s a 14-day free trial available and it’s worth noting that CrossOver Mac can even run many Windows games. 

If you fancy a free-of-charge approach then try the more hands-on WineBottler

Read: OS X Yosemite vs Windows 10

 

Grab contact photos from Facebook

If you’ve signed into Facebook or Twitter on your Mac you can raid the social networks’ profile pictures in order to update your iCloud address book. To do so, open System Preferences, click Internet Accounts, then select your Facebook or Twitter account at the left. Then click the Update Profile Photos button. 

Read: Yosemite WiFi issues and Yosemite updates

 

Beam movies to your telly - without AirPlay

AirPlay is a terrific way of viewing movies on your TV, or listening to songs, but it requires an Apple TV. If you’ve a modern internet-compatible TV you might find it’s compatible with DLNA, which means that you can beam files directly to it over the network. Alternatively, most games consoles are DLNA-compatible.

To use DLNA on your Mac you’ll need an app like PS3 Media Server, which despite its name should work with all DLNA-compatible TVs and is free of charge although requires you install Java (you’ll be prompted during installation). Once the app is installed you’ll need to point it at where your video or audio files are stored on your Mac by clicking the Navigation/Share Settings tab, and then click the Restart Server button. Your Mac should appear automatically on your TV or PS3 in the list of available devices to play from.

Read: Super-advanced tips for Mac OS X Yosemite (UPDATED)

 

Use Android games and apps

By installing GenyMotion on your Mac (free for personal use) you can use a virtual Android tablet. Click the Add button on the GenyMotion toolbar and click Custom Tablet in the Device Model dropdown list. Choose Custom tablet – 4.3 – API 18 – 2560x1600.

Once the emulated Android installation has been setup, you’ll need to add-in a few hacks to make it into a full Android system. Start your emulated tablet by double-clicking its entry in the list so it boots to the unlock screen. Then on your Mac download the ARM translation software, and drop the zip file you downloaded on top of the tablet emulation program window (don’t unzip it first!). Click OK to install, then wait until a second dialog box appears, then close and restart your emulated tablet (if you see a failure message, just restart anyway). Then on your Mac download the Google Apps zip and again drop it over the emulated tablet window, and follow the instructions before restarting (again, don’t worry if you see a failure message). 

When you restart the tablet you’ll need to follow the instructions to set it up as a new device, but you should find that Play Store is now available and will let you install apps and games.

Read: Yosemite tips: learn to use OS X Yosemite

 

Create a file server

An old Mac you no longer use you can be turned into a file server for other Macs and Windows computers to store data on – useful for backup purposes, especially if you attach an external hard disk.

Just open System Preferences, click Sharing, and then put a tick alongside File Sharing. You’ll be shown an address to use, On a Mac that wants to save files on your new server, open Finder and click Go > Connect To Server, then type the afp:// address provided. On a Windows computer, open the Start menu and in the Search field type two backslashes and just the part of the address following the afp:// part of the list (i.e. something like \\192.168.1.5).

Your users can login using the Mac’s username and password if they don’t mind seeing each other’s files, or you can use the Users & Groups component of System Preferences to create an separate account for each of your users. 

Read: 10 tweaks for Mac OS X you didn't know are possible

 

Run vintage Mac OS

If you want a nostalgia blast you can run older versions of Mac OS on your Mac. Apple’s made the older Mac OS 7 and 9 releases free of charge, and the equally free Sheep Shaver software is able to run them. Getting it all working can be a bit time consuming, however, and by googling you may find some readymade operating system images that you can simply install and double-click to run. This excellent example from Columbia University also includes the vintage Word Perfect software!

Read: OS X 10.10 Yosemite - in-depth review

 

Rescue files from a damaged Mac

If a Mac is misbehaving to the point where it won’t boot, but you believe the hard disk is still intact, then you might be able to use another Mac to access its files. 

Turn on the Mac that’s broken and immediately hold down the T key. This will boot it into Target Disk Mode, which should work even if the Mac can’t boot normally. Then connect the Mac to the second Mac via a Firewire or Thunderbolt cable. The damaged Mac will appear in Finder as an external drive, just like plugging in a USB stick.

Read: Yosemite pros and cons: reflecting on the best features and worst frustrations

 

Speak what you want

This is an old trick but it’s been given a new lease of life in recent versions of OS X because of extremely realistic voice synthesis. To make your Mac say what you type, open a Terminal window (you’ll find it in the Utilities folder of Finder), then type say and hit Enter. Then type what you want to say and hit Enter after each line. When you’ve finished, just close the Terminal window. 

Read: Yosemite tutorials

 

Teach you about English usage

Most people now that Macs include a very capable Dictionary app, which is within the Applications list. What most people don’t know is that this contains ALL of the dictionary, including the introductory pages explaining how the English language is structured and how dictionaries are created. To access it, just open the Dictionary app then click Go > Front/Back Matter. 

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