Welcome to our roundup of the best macOS tips, tricks and secret features. In this article we will tell you about 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 deeper.
We have a run down of some of the best new features in macOS High Sierra, which arrived on Macs on 25 September 2017, you can read our macOS High Sierra review and check what the latest version of MacOS is. We also compare macOS and Windows here.
This feature will help you discover some amazing tips and tricks that will help you get the most out of your Mac. We also have some Power User Tips for MacOS here.
Hat tip to Keir Thomas who has provided many of these tips over the years.
Stop autoplay audio and video in Safari
With Safari 11 (which you can get if you are running macOS Sierra or High Sierra) can disable autoplay video, so you will never again have to hear voices while you are browsing the web.
Next time you are on a site that is autoplaying a video click on Safari > Settings for This Website, or right-click the URL box and select Settings for This Website.
Once the Settings for This Website option is selected you will see a pop up window with the option Auto-Play, hover on the words besides that to see three choices:
- Allow All Auto-Play
- Stop Media with Sound
- Never Auto-Play
Stop Media with Sounds appears to be the default option, and it will essentially stop any video from starting if the sound is set to be on. If the video is set to play silently it will still run in Safari in High Sierra, but at least they won’t suddenly blare out audio, scaring you because you had the sound on your Mac turned up.
If you would rather not see the video at all, you can choose Never Auto-Play. This selection will apply to any autoplay videos on that site. If you visit a page with a video you will see a Play button in the middle of the video and you just have to click on that to start the video playing.
If you want videos to Auto-Play on a particular site you can choose to Allow All Auto-Play. Choose Stop Media with Sound if you don’t mind them playing but would rather not hear the sound track.
You can also add sites you wish not to autoplay video to a listing in Safari Preferences. Go to Safari > Preferences and click on Websites. Click Auto-Play and in the section on the right you will see any currently open websites. As before, you can choose to:
- Allow All Auto-Play
- Stop Media with Sound
- Never Auto-Play
We have a complete tutorial that explains how to use this feature here: How to stop autoplay video in Safari & Chrome on Mac, plus you can read our comparison of all the web browsers available for Mac here: Best Mac Web Browser.
Create a long exposure shots and GIFs in Photos
A new feature in Photos in High Sierra is the ability to turn those Live Photos into a Gif like repeating loop. You can also set one of three other effects: a traditional live photo, a back-and-forth bouncing effect, or a Long Exposure image that mimics a photo taken with the shutter left open for a long time.
- To turn a live photo into a looping ‘Gif’, open your Live Photo in Edit mode.
- You'll see a drop-down box with the options: Live, Loop, Bounce and Long Exposure. Choose Loop.
We have a complete guide to turning Live photos into Gifs here: How to make a GIF on iPhone
If you have a Live Photo of something like fireworks you can make a Long Exposure image from it.
- Select the Live Photo > Edit
- Then choose Long Exposure.
How to pin important Notes
We use Notes all the time and the ability to Pin the most important ones is very handy.
To Pin a note, just find the note you want and right click on it and choose Pin Note.
You can also Lock Note, which will mean that a password is needed to open it.
How to use Tables in Notes
Here's how to add a table to a Note:
- Click on the table icon in the menu bar.
- To add more rows you can either click in the last cell and click on the Tab key, or you can click on one of the small boxes with three dots inside that appear beside the rows and columns when they are selected.
- Click on that box to see a drop-down menu with the option Add Row Above, Add Row Below, and Delete Row, or Add Column Before, Add Column After, and Delete Column, depending on what area of the table you are extending.
As you add more columns each column will get smaller, once the table is wider than a single page a bar will appear at the bottom to make swiping across to view more data simpler.
How to search for flights in Spotlight
If you know the flight number then it’s easy to search for flight information in Spotlight. Just click on cmd+Spacebar and type in your flight number.
Spotlight will not only let you know when the flight departed, and when it will arrive at its destination, it will also show you where in the world the plane is currently.
Use Siri to change system settings on your Mac
If you don't feel too much of a plonker talking to your Mac, you can use Siri to quickly make changes to your settings. Save time by using Siri rather than going though the System Preferences menus searching for the setting you require.
Activate Siri by pressing cmd+spacebar and then:
Say "increase brightness" and Siri will brighten up your display for you.
Or "turn on bluetooth" to switch on the bluetooth chip.
Try asking "how much space is left" to find out how much storage you still have available.
Correct Siri's mistakes
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.
For more Siri tips, read our Complete Guide to Siri on the Mac.
Copy and Paste between devices
We love this feature that arrived in macOS Sierra.
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).
Sync Desktops on multiple Macs
If you're 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
Autocap and full stop like on your iPhone
If you like the fact that when you type on your iPhone or iPad the first word of a sentence is automatically capitalised, and a full stop is added automatically after you press space twice, you will like these new options that arrived in Sierra.
Go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Text, and select: '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.)
Select these the two options by ticking in the boxes then the necessary 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'.
QuickType on your Mac
You know how when you are typing on your iPhone or iPad you can see three suggested words you might be intending to type next? You can get a similar QuickType function on your Mac in certain apps.
If you use TextEdit or Notes, it is possible to hit Esc+Alt while typing a word and see a number of guesses at to which word you might type next.
The list of suggested words will appear and you can select by clicking one of them.
For example, type "hello", then space, and then hit Alt+Esc (in some cases just Esc), and you will see a list of possible next words.
Sign things using your trackpad
If you've got a finger and a Mac laptop or Magic Trackpad then you can sign PDFs within Preview.
Open the PDF you need to sign and click on the toolbox icon at the top right of the Preview toolbar (next to the search field). Then click the signature icon beneath (it looks like a squiggle).
Then click Create Signature, ensure the Trackpad tab is selected, and then click to begin as directed. When you've finished you can select the signature from the menu, then drag it to wherever you want it to appear.
If you intend to make good use of this feature then you might want to use a touchscreen stylus, which will works just as well on a trackpad as it does on an iPhone or iPad. (A biro won't work, so don't try it!)
Here's a tutorial that explains more about using Preview to make a signature on a Mac.
Get organised with Tags and Stacks
Over the years Apple has added little touches that are designed to help us file things and find things on our Macs.
For example, searching with Spotlight makes it really easy to find things, and Quick Look means you can get a glimpse of a file before you open it, so you can be sure it's the right one. But some times you need to be a little bit more organised to avoid wasting hours searching.
One way that you can get organised is to use Tags. You can use these colour coded tags to differentiate between different projects or areas of the work you do.
The most useful thing is being able to attach multiple tags to something. Perhaps something is related to more than one project, if that’s the case tag it to both projects and you will always be able to find it.
This all might sound like boring admin, but it can actually save you time, because you don't have to file things away in folders like you may have in the past, you can just save them in one place but attach the relevant tags to them. Then when you need the files associated with a particular project all you need to do is search for them.
Except you don't have to search for them - you can access your Tags from the left of the Finder, or, you can create a Stack, which can live in your Dock.
To create a Stack drag a Tag from where they're listed in the sidebar of a Finder window to the right-hand side of the dock near the Trash. A space should open up for you to drop the icon, and clicking on that stack in future will show only files or folders that use that particular Tag.
Look inside Folders in Spotlight
Speaking of Spotlight, if you search for something using Spotlight, a folder may be shown in the list of results.
What's not obvious is that you can use the cursor keys to highlight this folder, then tap the Tab key to move the highlight over to the right of the window so that you can select an item within it.
Hitting Enter will open any highlighted entry. Tapping Shift+Tab will move the highlight back to the left-hand column.
Recentre Spotlight's window
You probably know that the Spotlight window can be moved around the screen 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, and performing this particular trick means what you've typed won’t be deleted.
Here are some more Spotlight tips.
Take a Quick Look at files in the Finder
Quick Look is another handy way of identifying the files you are looking for. Click on the file, press Space and you'll see a preview of it which you can skim through to see if it's what you were looking for, without even needing to open the file.
The Finder has always offered a preview pane as part of the Columns view mode. As you might expect, this showed a preview of the currently clicked-upon file.
What you may not know is that this Quick Look preview can also be activated in any view mode: icon, list, column, or Cover Flow.
To activate the preview window, click View > Show Preview. Alternatively, tap Shift+Cmd+P.
Click the same button or hit the same keyboard combo to hide it again.
A bonus tip here: this preview 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 here you can cue back and forth using the two-finger scroll gesture, just like you might in QuickTime Player.
Translate to and from Spanish, German, etc
The Dictionary app doesn't have to be limited to your own language. You can activate more than one language by opening the Dictionary app (search for it in Spotlight, cmd+Space) and opening the Preferences panel (Cmd+,), then putting a tick alongside the languages you want.
You can also drag them up and down to rearrange the order in which they appear during lookups.
You could add a Spanish/English dictionary, for example, to make it easy to find the translations you need when wriring in Spanish.
Once the Spanish dictionary is activated, you can look up any word in most apps by right-clicking it and selecting the Look Up option, or by hovering the mouse cursor over it and tapping Ctrl+Cmd+D.
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 didn't arrive until El Capitan, although it's limited to list and Cover Flow views, and isn't available when icon view is being used.
The right-click menu also gained a similar rename option in El Capitan that wasn't present before!
Check the signal strength and battery of your iPhone hotspot
If you can't get on to a network via your Mac, it's really easy to share your connection to your Mac from your iPhone.
On your iPhone go to Cellular/Mobile Data > Personal Hotspot and turn it on.
Now click on the WiFi icon in your Mac menu bar, find the iPhone and enter the password displayed on your phone.
Once you are connected you can see how good the signal strength is and the battery status of your iPhone so you know how long you can stay connected.
Hide the fact that you're watching video on your Mac
Convinced that you can get work done while watching video at the same time?
One of the new features that arrived with Sierra in 2016 was the ability to watch videos in a small window, known as picture-in-picture (PiP) mode.
If you open a video in iTunes or Safari (as long as it uses HTML 5) you can pin the video to the corner of your screen where in theory you can watch it while you continue to go about your tasks on your Mac.
Channel 4's streaming service All4 offers a PiP mode, as does BBC iPlayer.
Vimeo supports the PiP feature. Start playing the video and then press the icon for Picture-in-picture which will appear next to the expand icon.
YouTube doesn't officially support PiP but but there is a workaround. Start playing your YouTube video and then right click on it. A menu will appear with a black background, 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.
Record your iPhone or iPad's output
Did you know you can view your iPhone or iPad screen on your Mac's display and record the content displayed there?
It used to be that the only way to do so was complicated setups involving AirPlay mirroring and third-party software. Now all you need do is attach the device to your Mac via USB and then open QuickTime Player.
Select File > New Movie Recording.
QuickTime will default to your Mac's iSight camera (assuming it has one), but click the small down arrow alongside the record button and your iPad or iPhone will show up as an option.
Of course, you haven't got to record anything, and can simply expand the QuickTime Player window to full-screen for some cool game-play mirroring! You can also select the New Audio Recording option in QuickTime Player to record only audio via your phone or tablet’s microphone.
Here's more information about recording your iPhone screen on your Mac.
Switch to mini-player in iTunes
When music is playing within iTunes, clicking the small album art icon next to the currently playing track title at the top of the window will instantly switch iTunes to the mini-player window.
If there's no album art associated with that track a musical note icon will appear there instead, but this trick will still work. Hold down Option/Alt while clicking and you'll leave the main iTunes window visible while opening the mini-player.
Hold down Cmd and you'll open a floating window showing a large version of the album art, complete with QuickTime Player-like controls at the bottom. Right-click the album artwork in this window and you'll see options to make the artwork bigger or smaller, or even make it expand to the full height of the desktop. Neat!
Find cakes in Photos
Photos in both macOS and iOS had been languishing behind rivals, such as Google Photos, for a while. But in macOS Sierra, Apple gave Photos a shot in the arm.
Photos now scans your images and can 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.
Another Photos feature you mignt not be utilising is the support for third-party extensions, with these extensions being sold via the App Store. We have a collection of some of the best Photos plugins here: Best Plugins for Photos.
Extensions expanded the functionality of Photos tremendously.
You might also find this useful: Top tips for setting up and using Photos for Mac
Unlock your Mac with Apple Watch
If you have an Apple Watch you can set up your Mac so that you never have to key in your password again. You can 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 (macOS Sierra, iOS 10.3, watchOS 3), 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
Quickly free up space
Running out of space on your Mac? MacOS Sierra will come to your aid.
There are a number of options available to you (you can see them for yourself 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.
Stop wasting your battery
Version 10.2.3 of macOS Sierra added includes a feature to 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 can't do without, you can at least try to cut down a little.
As of macOS 10.12.3, the the sub-menu of 'Apps Using Significant Energy' was expanded to a more general 'Using Significant Energy'. As well as power-hungry apps, this now includes your display, if the brightness is set above a certain point.
For more power-saving tips, see Tips for better MacBook battery life.
Night Shift your Mac screen
Speaking of display brightness, the Night Shift feature added in version 10.12.4 of Sierra, makes it possible to tone down your display to make it more comfortable to use at night.
If you implement the feature your Mac's display will adjusts its colours in the evening so it uses less blue light and instead uses what Apple calls "the warmer end of the spectrum".
You'll notice a yellowish cast on your screen when you use your Mac at night. This could be particularly beneficial for someone who suffers from insomnia as apparently the blue light keeps people awake.
Read more about using Night Shift on your Mac here.
Show the full URL
Another handy Safari tip. In Yosemite Safari stopped showing the whole URL - a feature designed to help avoid users being taken in by phishing scams, wherein the URL is obfuscated. In other words, if you're visiting http://macworld.co.uk/this/page/that/page then all you'll see in the address bar is macworld.co.uk.
If this isn’t what you want, perhaps you want to see the full URL of the article you are reading, you can change things so that the whole URL is shown.
Open Safari's preferences dialog box (Cmd+,) then click the Advanced icon and put a check alongside Show Full Website Address.
Private web browsing in Safari
One last thing to mention with Safari. You can open a private browsing window.
Go to Safari > File > New Private Window (or shift-cmd-n). You can tell if a window is private because the search bar will be grey. Any new tabs you open in this window will be private.
For even more privacy, you can choose to always search with privacy-obsessed DuckDuckGo as your default search engine. Go to Safari > Preferences > Search, and click on the Search Engine. Then select Duck Duck Go from the Search Engine dropdown list. You can choose from Google, Bing, Yahoo or DuckDuckGo.
We have lots more Safari tips here.
Use Notification Centre to see where your friends are
You can add the Find My Friends widget to Notification Centre and see where your friends are.
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.
In order to use Find My Friends you have to set it up on your iPad or iPhone - although you will be able to choose to share your location from your Mac - and you will only be able to see friends if they choose to allow you to.
You, and they, will also need to have location services turned on on their device. Turn Location Services in at Privacy > Location Services.
Here's more about using Notification Centre on the Mac.
Make calls and more on your Mac
Having tracked your friends down in Find My Friends, you can also make and answer calls on your Mac.
The phone call is actually routed via your iPhone. To call a friend either open the FaceTime app and choose the Audio tab, open the Contacts app and locate them there, or just search for their name using Spotlight. Once you have found the number for your friend click on the handset beside it to place the call.
You can also call directly from a webpage if you have located a number there. Just click on the down arrow that appears when you hover your mouse pointer over the number and choose to call using your iPhone.
Similarly, if anyone calls you on your iPhone you can answer the call on your Mac. For help setting this up we recommend this article: How to make phone calls on your Mac
Send audio messages
You've been able to send iMessages from your Mac since Apple launched Mavericks in 2013. Back in Yosemite, the Messages app gained a little microphone icon alongside where you type. Perhaps surprisingly, this wasn't for dictation. Instead, it allows you to send short audio clips to other iMessage users, just like in iOS.
Just click the icon, speak, and then click the red square button to end the recording. Then click the Send button. The audio quality also isn't great - we're talking only slightly better than mobile phone - but that's probably because the audio is compressed to make sending and receiving quicker.
Recipients using an iOS devices will see the audio files as waveforms along with a play button.
Send text messages to Android phones from your Mac
Speaking of Messages, you aren't limited to just sending messages to your iPhone-wielding friends and family.
You can also send and receive SMS text messages - which means you can communicate with your friends who have Android and Windows devices. To send a text message to a friend open Messages, and tap in their mobile number (or search for them - if your friend is in your contacts their number will show up).
You can find out how to set this up here: How to send text messages on a Mac