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.

First up, we have a rundown of some of the best new features in Catalina. You can find out how Mojave and Catalina compare here.

Then we have the best features that arrived in macOS Mojave, which became available to download in September 2018. If you want to find out more about Mojave, read our Mojave review, or we have a comparison of macOS Mojave and High Sierra here.

We'll then move on to describe our favourite features in macOS, including the most useful features that have arrived over the years. Read on to discover some of the best tips and tricks that will help you get the most out of your Mac. And if that's not enough, 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.

Best new features in Catalina

Catalina is the latest version of macOS. It launched in October 2019. We've picked a few of our favourite features below.

Use iPad as second screen

You’ll be able to use your iPad as a second screen for your Mac as long as you have the following:

  • A compatible Mac running macOS Catalina
  • A compatible iPad running iPadOS 13
  • Compatible Macs include: MacBook Pro (2016 or later), MacBook (2016 or later), MacBook Air (2018 or later),  iMac (2016 or later, as well as iMac 5K, 27-inch, late 2015), iMac Pro, Mac mini (2018 or later), Mac Pro (2019)
  • Compatible iPads include: 12.9in iPad Pro, 11in iPad Pro, 10.5in iPad PRo, 9.7in iPad PRo, iPad (6th generation), 5th generation iPad, iPad mini 5th generation, iPad mini 4, iPad Air 3rd gen, iPad Air 2.
  • iCloud logged in on both devices

Here's what you will need to do:

  1. Either connect your iPad using your charging cable, or via Bluetooth (within 10 meters)
  2. Select the AirPlay menu at the top of your screen
  3. Your iPad should be listed, select it - you will immediately see an extension of your Mac’s screen on the iPad display
  4. If you would prefer to mirror the Mac screen on the iPad, rather that use the iPad as an extension of your workspace, slick on the new screen icon in the menu (it will have replaced the AirPlay icon) and switch from Use as Separate Display to Mirror Built-In Retina Display. (A new Sidecar section will also appear in System Preferences next to Displays.)
  5. There are also options relating to Sidebar and Touch Bar which will allow you to extend the functionality of the apps you use via the iPad touch screen. If you want to move these tools, you can Open Sidecar Preferences from the same menu, and choose where the Sidebar and Touch Bar appears on the iPad screen.

You’ll be able to drag and drop windows between the two screens, use the touch-screen functionality of the iPad display, and benefit from the addition of a Touch Bar even if you don’t own an MacBook Pro.

We have a tutorial about how to use an iPad as a second screen here.

Use iPad as graphics tablet

You’ll also be able to use you iPad and Apple Pencil like a graphics tablet.

What you’ll need:

  • A compatible Mac running macOS Catalina (see compatibiluty details above)
  • A compatible iPad running iPadOS 13 (see compatibiluty details above) 
  • To be logged on to iCloud on both devices
  • A Mac app that supports Sidecar (See which apps support Sidecar here)

You’ll be able use your iPad and Apple Pencil while using drawing, design, illustration and other creative apps.

It will work in exactly the same way as using a graphics tablet does. You’ll be able to take advantage of pressure and tilt-sensitive drawing abilities offered by the iPad.

Find a lost Mac - even if it's not online

If you have ever lost your - or if your Mac was stolen - you might have used the Find My iPhone service to track it down. Prior to Catalina that service reliedon the Mac being on and connected to the internet, in order to track it - which it probably wouldn’t be.

Apple’s new solution to the problem of tracking a Mac that is asleep is to use Bluetooth. If it is running Catalina the Mac will communicate with other device via Bluetooth, and those other devices will relay its location back to you via iCloud. This is a good reason to keep Bluetooth turned on!

Read more about how to locate a lost Mac here.

Another feature in Catalina can further protect your Mac from thieves: As long as your Mac has a T2 chip Activation Lock will mean that only you can unlock it. So thieves won’t be able to boot up the Mac at all.

Auto Dark Mode

Dark Mode arrived in Mojave, but Catalina takes it a step futher with a really useful addition.

You can now set Dark Mode to come on automatically at a particular time of day.

The Auto Dark Mode option is available via System Preferences > General.

Prior to Catalina you could choose Light and Dark, but in Catalina there is a new Auto option.

With Auto selected your desktop theme will change depending on the time of day.

Catalina dark mode

Speaking of a changing desktop, there is also a new Dynamic Desktop wallpaper in Catalina which features the Santa Catalina Island at different times of the day.

Block a sender in Mail

Are you fed up with Mail nagging you with a big red badge announcing that there are 2,500 unread messages? If you want to clear out your inbox and get your email under control a new feature in Catalina Mail will be handy.

You will be able to easily block a particular email sender and at the same time move all their emails into the Trash.

To block a sender just click on their name in any email header and you will see the option to block.

Block sender

You will be able to unsubscribe from mailing lists in a similar way. An unsubscribe button will appear above the email header.


Use Memory Movies on the Mac

We love using the Memories feature in Photos on our iPhone to create slideshows and movies from our photos and videos.

Frustratingly, the Mac version of Photos has always been more limited, however, once you have Catalina installed you will be able to fine tune your Memory Movies in the Photos app.

Prior to Catalina you could choose the music that accompanies your video on your Mac but not much else. (The same feature on the iPhone offers a lot more functionality).

These edits will sync to your other devices if you use iCloud Photos.

  1. Open Photos.
  2. Choose or create an Album you want to use as the basis for your Memory Movie.
  3. Select that album and at the top choose: Show as Memory. This will add it to Memories.
  4. Now clicknon the Play button - the photos and video will download from iCloud if not stored on your Mac.
  5. In Catalina, you can edit the duration if having - or at least choose between Short and Medium as well as choose the mood (dreamy, sentimental, happy, etc), and title of your Movie. To do so click on the cog in the playback tool bar.

click cog

Unfortunately you still don't have any flexibility in terms of adding and removing photos aor adjusting the video that plays.

Use PiP in Safari

Apple made it possible to mute audio in Safari just by clicking on the audio icon in a browser tab some generations back. In Catalina you also have the ability to open the video into a window so that you can watch it - also known as Picture In Picture (PiP).

  1. To watch a video in PiP start playing the video in Safari.
  2. Click on the audio indicator that appears in the URL box.
  3. Choose Enter Picture in Picture

pip in Safari

Sign in with Apple

Soon you will be able to Sign In With Apple - or what you might see as Continue With Apple - on apps and websites, which is great because you can be confident that Apple won’t be sharing your data with anyone - or even using it for its own purposes. It will also make it really easy to set up an account on the website or app - or log into an existing account - without having to remember which email address and password you used.

We haven't seen Continue With Apple in many places, but Wordpress is using it as is travel deal site Kayak.

Best features in Mojave

A lot of exciting new features arrived within Mojave when it launched in September 2018, we'll run through our favourites below.

Dark Mode

Dark Mode isn’t entirely new to the Mac. We’ve been able to switch to a dark menu bar and Dock since El Capitan (2015), and we’ve been able to use Night Shift to tone down the bright-blue light in favour of warmer light that's easier on the eyes since macOS Sierra. But when Mojave arrived we were finally able to switch to a completely redesigned, darker interface.

Here's how to turn on the Mojave Dark Mode:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Click on the General tab.
  3. Beside Appearance, choose Dark.

With this setting selected your Mac will take on a darker look across the board, with some apps gaining black backgrounds and white type, as you can see from the image below.

Mojave apps Dark Mode

The Dark Mode appearance won't be completely universal - a Pages document will still be white with black text by default, and a Safari web page will still be as bright as the web designer intended - but if you use Reader mode in Safari (which we discuss below) you can see a dark version of the web (not the actual Dark Web).

If you don't have Mojave you can turn on the Night Shift feature (this is also an option in Mojave). Night Shift was added in version 10.12.4 of Sierra and it makes it possible to tone down your display to make it more comfortable to use at night. If you implement the Night Shift 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".

  1. To turn Night Shift on, go to System Preferences.
  2. Click on Displays.
  3. Click on the Night Shift tab.
  4. You can choose to schedule the feature to run from sunset to sunrise, or you can turn it on manually until tomorrow.
  5. You can also adjust the look of Night Shift to make it more or less yellow. 

With Night Shift turned on you'll notice a yellowish cast on your screen. 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 and Dark Mode on your Mac here.

Desktop Stacks

For most of us, filing on our Mac is a case of saving to, or dragging and dropping onto, our Desktops. Apple even endorses this behaviour - allowing us to sync our desktops between our different Macs, and even access the files on our Mac desktop via our iOS devices.

The problem with this filing method is that eventually, your desktop ends up covered in screenshots, files and photos. One way to deal with this mess is to drag everything into a Stuff folder once in a while, but in Mojave Apple introduced a much better method.

With Desktop Stacks in Mojave you can choose a view that groups things together according to various categories.

So, you could have all the images on your desktop, all the screenshots, and all the PDFs, appear grouped in separate Stacks, rather than scattered all over the place.

Stacks are a little like Smart Folders (a feature that arrived way back in Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger in 2005). In the case of Smart Folders you could set up a folder to populate itself according to a set of rules, e.g. all images added to your Mac in the past 30 days. But with Desktop Folders you don’t have to set up rules - Mojave will do it for you.

Once you have Mojave on your Mac you will be able to turn on Desktop Stacks, here's how:

  • Right click on your desktop and choose Use Stacks.
  • Alternatively, click on the desktop and then click on View > Use Stacks.

You can reveal what's inside a Stack by clicking on it, when you do so the entire stack will open onto your desktop, as can be seen in the image below.

Desktop Stacks in Mojave

Read more about Desktop Stacks here.

Dynamic Desktop

If you are excited about Dark Mode in Mojave, you will probably love the new Dynamic Wallpapers that also arrived in Mojave.

There are actually two choices of Dynamic Desktop wallpapers. There's the Mojave desert themed desktop wallpaper and also one called Solar Gradients.

These Dynamic wallpapers change their appearance to match the time of day. So, once the sun goes down outside you can expect the wallpaper on your Mac to reflect that.

Mojave desktop image changes

If you want to use Dynamic Desktop wallpaper in Mojave, here's what to do:

  1. Right click on the desktop.
  2. Choose between Mojave or Solar Gradients under the Dynamic Desktop section.
  3. If you choose the Mojave wallpaper you can opt not have the image change - you could choose a static image. So if you do want the image to change dynamically then make sure you have the Dynamic option selected beside the thumbnail of the image.

For more information about using Dynamic Desktop and what to do if it's not working read this.

Editing screenshots and other files in Quick Look

Quick Look was one of our favourite features in Mac OS X Leopard (2007). It is a 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.

Back when Yosemite launched in 2014 Apple added Markup tools to Mail and other Mac apps so that you could quickly make edits to images or PDFs without opening Photos or Preview.

If you dropped an image into Mail, for example, clicking on the down arrow that appeared in the top right corner of that image when you hovered your cursor over it, would bring up the Markup pallet with tools to draw, add shapes, add a signature, and more. Great if you were emailing an image to someone, say a screenshot of a map, and wanted to indicate something in particular.

In Mojave, Mac users gain access to these markup tools - as well as rotate, crop and more - from within Quick Look.

Here's what to do:

  1. To access these tools, locate the file you want to edit in the Finder (or from your Desktop) and press the spacebar to open the Quick Look view.
  2. Next click on the icon that looks like a pencil in a circle. This will bring up the markup tools.
  3. Now you can draw on, write on, add shapes to, add your signature to (perhaps if it's a PDF) and even rotate and crop, all without opening an application.
  4. You can revert if you need to remove the changes you have made, or click Done if you are finished.

Beware, you can't undo your changes or additions once you close the document or image, so don't destroy something important!

Read more about using the Markup tools on the Mac here.

Quick Look Markup changes

This feature could be a real benefit for those who need to fill in or sign a PDF form - you don't even need to open a PDF editor.

It is also possible to quickly crop a screenshot to be inserted into a presentation, and Mojave users can also trim the beginning and end of a video clip, all from within Quick Look - both features we will look at in more detail below.

View image metadata and more in the finder

There is a new Finder Gallery View in MacOS Mojave that replaces the old Cover Flow view. The Cover Flow view was borrowed from iTunes - and disappeared from that app back in 2012, but this new view is more reminiscent of the Photos app, and much more useful if you work with images.

In a panel to the right of the image can be seen metadata, including date created, dimensions, colour space and more.

Those Markup tools we mentioned above really come into play here. With Mojave users being able to do minor edits to images, such as rotate or Create a PFD, from within this Finder view.

To make more changes to the image, just click on the Markup icon, to be found in the bottom right corner of the window, alongside Rotate Left and More…

To switch to Gallery View, Mojave users just need to click on the fourth icon in the Finder (where the Cover Flow view used to be).

Make edits in Finder Gallery View

Once in Gallery View, users can focus on one image or document. Metadata associated with the image or document will appear on the right, and thumbnails of all the files in the same folder can be seen along the bottom of the Finder window.

Creating Finder Quick Actions

The Finder also gained new Quick Actions in Mojave which will help automate certain actions. Like turning images into PDFs.

The Quick Actions available by default are Rotate Left, Markup and Create PDF, but you can create more Quick Actions in the Automator app.

Here's how:

  1. Open Automator and click on New Document.
  2. Choose the new Contextual Workflow from the options.
  3. Along the left there are various options that will help you build up your action.
  4. Once you have created your Quick Action, select File > Save and choose an appropriate name to help you identify the action.
  5. Now to evoke your Quick Action, just right-click on the image or document, then choose Quick Actions, and find the one you created.

Taking screenshots

In Mojave taking a screenshot is a little more like taking a screenshot on an iPhone or iPad. Once you have taken your screen grab it will pop up as a thumbnail in the bottom right of your screen.

You can then be able to click on the thumbnail image to open it in Quick Look where you will have access to the markup tools for editing, cropping, and rotating that we mention above.

Here's more about taking screenshots on a Mac.

Capture video

In Mojave you get some additional screenshot options when you take your screenshot. Along with Capture Screen, Capture Window, and Capture Selection, you will see options to Record Screen and Record Selection.

If you install Mojave you'll find that the screen recording options previously only available in QuickTime are now available if you press Command + Shift + 5.

Here's how to record what’s on your screen in Mojave:

  1. Click on Command + Shift + 5.
  2. Click on one of the record options.
  3. When you want to stop recording, click on the stop button in the menu at the top of the screen.
  4. As with the screenshots, the video will appear as a thumbnail in the bottom right. Click on this to access markup tools for trimming the beginning and end of your recording.

Here's a tutorial about capturing a video of what's on your Mac.

Continuity Camera

Another feature that arrived in Mojave (and iOS 12) was the ability to access your iPhone camera from your Mac.

For example, if you were working on a Keynote presentation and decided that what it really needs is a photograph of your cup of coffee, then you can click on the option to enter an image and choose the iPhone camera as the source. When you take the snap with your iPhone camera you’d see the image appear automatically in the presentation - no need to import the image from the iPhone to your Mac.

The process works like this:

  1. Using Keynote, Pages, or another Apple app on your Mac, right-click (or control-click) and choose Insert from your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Choose the option Take Photo.
  3. Pick up your iPhone - the camera app should open automatically - and take the photo.
  4. If you are happy with the photo, tap Use Photo and the photo will immediately appear in the document on your Mac.

A similar process applies if you want to scan a document to add to the document you are editing on your Mac.

  1. Right-click (or control-click) where you want to add the image.
  2. Choose Insert from your iPhone or iPad > Scan Documents.

Best tips for macOS High Sierra and earlier

Now we will move on to some of the best features you can take advantage of on your Mac even if you aren't running Mojave!

Stop autoplay audio and video in Safari

Stop autoplay audio and video in Safari

With Safari 11 (which you can get if you are running macOS Sierra or High Sierra) you 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

Want to stop your Mac making a start up sound when you turn it on? Read: How to stop Mac startup sounds.

Create a long exposure shots and GIFs in Photos

Create a long exposure shots and GIFs in Photos

A feature that arrived in Photos with High Sierra is the ability to turn the Live Photos you take with your iPhone 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.

  1. To turn a live photo into a looping ‘Gif’, open your Live Photo in Edit mode.
  2. 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.

  1. Select the Live Photo > Edit
  2. Then choose Long Exposure.

How to pin important Notes

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

How to use Tables in Notes

Here's how to add a table to a Note:

  1. Click on the table icon in the menu bar.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

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

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 through 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

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

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

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

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 with MacOS Sierra in 2016.

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

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 as 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

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 work just as well on a trackpad as it does on an iPhone or iPad. (A biro won't work, so don't try it!)

You'll be able to use your signature scribbles from with Quick Look when macOS Mojave arrives - so you won't even need to open Preview! (See our section on Mojave QuickLook markup features above). 

Here's a tutorial that explains more about using Preview to make a signature on a Mac.

Get organised with Tags and Stacks

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 sometimes 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.

A new feature in MacOS Mojave will be Desktop Stacks (which we looked at above). Once that version of the macOS arrives in autumn 2018, you'll be able to sort your desktop into Tag-related Stacks if you like. 

Look inside Folders in Spotlight

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

Recentre Spotlight's window

Hopefully you know that Spotlight - the text-based function for finding anything on your Mac - can be easily evoked by pressing Command + Space (or clicking on the magnifying glass icon in the menu). Then all you need to do is start typing a word or the name of an application and the results will appear.

You probably also 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.

Preview files in the Finder

Preview files in the Finder

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

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 writing 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

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

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.

Here's how to create a hotspot on your iPhone

Hide the fact that you're watching video on your Mac

Hide the fact that you're watching video on your Mac

Convinced that you can get work done while watching a 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 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.

Switch to mini-player in iTunes

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

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 might 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

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

Quickly free up space

Running out of space on your Mac? A feature that arrived in 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

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 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

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 adjust 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

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

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

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

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

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 iOS device will see the audio files as waveforms along with a play button.

Send text messages to Android phones from your Mac

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