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.
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:
Either connect your iPad using your charging cable, or via Bluetooth (within 10 meters)
Select the AirPlay menu at the top of your screen
Your iPad should be listed, select it – you will immediately see an extension of your Mac’s screen on the iPad display
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.)
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.
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!
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.
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.
You will be able to unsubscribe from mailing lists in a similar way. An unsubscribe button will appear above the email header.
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.
Choose or create an Album you want to use as the basis for your Memory Movie.
Select that album and at the top choose: Show as Memory. This will add it to Memories.
Now clicknon the Play button – the photos and video will download from iCloud if not stored on your Mac.
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.
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).
To watch a video in PiP start playing the video in Safari.
Click on the audio indicator that appears in the URL box.
Choose Enter Picture in Picture
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 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:
Open System Preferences.
Click on the General tab.
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.
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
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”.
To turn Night Shift on, go to System Preferences.
Click on Displays.
Click on the Night Shift tab.
You can choose to schedule the feature to run from sunset to sunrise, or you can turn it on manually until tomorrow.
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.
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.
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.
If you want to use Dynamic Desktop wallpaper in Mojave, here’s what to do:
Right click on the desktop.
Choose between Mojave or Solar Gradients under the Dynamic Desktop section.
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.
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:
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.
Next click on the icon that looks like a pencil in a circle. This will bring up the markup tools.
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.
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!
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).
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.
Open Automator and click on New Document.
Choose the new Contextual Workflow from the options.
Along the left there are various options that will help you build up your action.
Once you have created your Quick Action, select File > Save and choose an appropriate name to help you identify the action.
Now to evoke your Quick Action, just right-click on the image or document, then choose Quick Actions, and find the one you created.
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.
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:
Click on Command + Shift + 5.
Click on one of the record options.
When you want to stop recording, click on the stop button in the menu at the top of the screen.
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.
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:
Using Keynote, Pages, or another Apple app on your Mac, right-click (or control-click) and choose Insert from your iPhone or iPad.
Choose the option Take Photo.
Pick up your iPhone – the camera app should open automatically – and take the photo.
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.
Right-click (or control-click) where you want to add the image.
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!