Welcome to our roundup of the best macOS tips, tricks and secret features. In this article we cover the best new features in macOS Sierra along with 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.
If you’d like to read more out about macOS Sierra, read our macOS Sierra review, check what the latest version of MacOS is, and find out which Macs can run macOS Sierra.
Turn to the next slide in this feature to start discovering the 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.
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’.
Locate your cursor
Chances are you have discovered this for yourself, but it was our favourite feature introduced with El Capitan in 2015 so we’re going to mention it here.
Next time when you can’t see your mouse pointer on the screen just shake your mouse, or wiggle your finger on the trackpad: it’s what we all do instinctively, but doing so will make the cursor grow in size momentarily so you will have no trouble spotting it.
Don’t like this behaviour? Perhaps you need to move their cursor rapidly for other reasons, perhaps when using illustration apps or playing games on your Mac.
It is possible to disable this cursor behaviour if you need to. Go to System Preferences > Accessibility > Display and deselect Shake mouse pointer to locate.
See everything you have open on your Mac
It wasn’t just the growing curser that had us excited in El Capitan, we were also over the moon when the old style Exposé behaviour returned.
In Mac OS X Yosemite, when you pressed F3 (or the key that represents Mission Control on your keyboard – if it’s a Mac keyboard it will be marked with three small boxes), documents associated with apps were gathered together, overlapping each other.
We preferred it when Expose didn’t overlap documents and we could actually differentiate between them.
Thankfully, since El Capitan when you select Expose you’ll see minimised views of all the documents you had open so you can see and select the one you want.
For more Mission Control tips, read How to use Mission Control
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.
Here’s how to create a hotspot on your iPhone
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!