16 Awesome Mac OS X Hidden Features You Don’t Know About (With GIFs)

mac-os-x-hidden-gems

I’ve been using my MacBook Pro for almost two years now and, I must say, there are still some features that keep surprising me. Mac OS X has a lot of amazing hidden features, or simply the ones that are at least not obvious to the average user.

All the “hidden” features below are standard Mac functionality, so no additional software is required. The only thing you need (for most of them) is simply a copy of Mac OS X El Capitan.

Also, feel free to share this list with your Windows-loving friends. Maybe it will make them think twice before buying a new Windows computer 😉

1. Sign PDFs with pen, paper and a webcam

sign pfd documents on mac

A very handy feature is Preview’s ability to sign digital documents, even if you don’t have a digital signature yet. Just sign a white piece of paper and hold it next to your webcam. This will turn your boring old-school signature into a really cool digital one.

2. Annotate PDFs with the default software

annotate pdf

Besides signing documents, Preview also allows you to annotate them in any way you want. You can add your own text, comments, highlight text etc.

3. Built-in Mac emoji

mac emoji and special characters

In case you didn’t know, OS X comes with built in emoji. Like the ones you have in iOS. Simply press ctrl+⌘+space to open the special characters window and choose the one you need!

4. Quickly close or hide lots of running apps

cmd tab close or hide apps

To close a lot of running apps, simply hold ⌘+tab, keep holding ⌘ and keep “tabbing” through the apps. As soon as you reach the app you want to close or hide, press wither Q to quit or H to hide the app.

5. Preview any file with space bar

preview any file with space bar

You can preview any file (even Photoshop files and videos) by selecting it and pressing the spacebar. Press it again to close the preview. While in the preview you can also press the arrow keys to change between files. This works especially great if you made tons of pictures on your last trip with your family, and need a quick way to select a few good ones to upload to Facebook.

The Space Bar Preview function also works with some video formats, that allows you to have quick glances of what’s inside the video file.

6. Dictation – type with your voice

mac dictation

Dictation works surprisingly well on Mac OS X. Just press the function (fn) key twice, start speaking and press fn one more time to convert speech to text.

What’s even more awesome is a feature called Enhanced Dictation. With this feature you can not only use all dictation features offline, but also get live feedback, do edits while recording, and then continue dictating your text. From my experience, Enhanced Dictation works much faster, almost instantly. You can aslo dictate longer sentences in a single go, because your Mac doesn’t need to send the audio file to Apple servers to convert it into text. Be warned, though. The offline dictation pack is around 700MB, so you’ll need to have this space available on your Mac.

To enable Enhanced Dictation simply go to your Settings > Dictation & Speech, and then check the box Use Enhanced Dictation. You’ll be prompted to download the additional files onto your machine. Once everything is downloaded, go ahead and give it a shot! You will see, that words will appear almost instantly as you speak. As a matter of fact, I have dictated this whole section of this post using Enhanced Dictation with a few edits here and there, like capitalizing letters and adding formatting.

7. Amazing screenshot functionality

screenshot shortcuts

  • ⌘ + ⇧ + 3 Capture entire screen + save
  • ⌘ + ctrl + ⇧ + 3 Capture entire screen + copy to the clipboard
  • ⌘ + ⇧ + 4 Capture dragged area + save (the one I use the most)
  • ⌘ + ctrl + ⇧ + 4 Capture dragged area + copy to the clipboard
  • ⌘ + ⇧ + 4 then Space Capture a window +save
  • ⌘ + ctrl + ⇧ + 4 then Space Capture a window + copy to the clipboard

A nice addition to this feature is the ability to share the screenshot instantly using Dropbox. After making a screenshot, Dropbox will automatically create a sharable link for you and copy it to your clipboard, that you can send to anyone instantly

8. Move selected text to create a new text file

drag text to file

Select text anywhere, click & hold and move it where you need to create a net text file with the selected text inside.

9. Install Windows (the real deal)

bootcamp assistant

In case you need to install Windows on your Mac, there is nothing from stopping you. Your Mac can run a full installation on Windows, which is just like the real deal. Just follow the instructions on your screen to install Windows.

10. Change volume and brightness in quarter-step increments

change volume and screen brightness with more control

Hold ⇧ + ⌥ and change your brightness in smaller increments for more control. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work anymore for the lowest brightness “section”. If you want to dim your screen even further at night, I suggest that you download F.lux to reduce eye stress.

The latest Mac OS versions don’t play a sound then adjusting the volume. If you want to hear it to check your sound levels, hold the Shift key (⇧) while changing it.

11. Rename and move iWork documents

rename and move documents from menu bar

Rename and move Pages, Keynote or Numbers documents right from the menu bar. To move a document click and hold the icon, then drag it wherever you want while holding ⌥.

12. Quickly summarize text

summarize text right click

Mac OS X allows you to quickly summarize long pieces of text in just a few seconds. To summarize a text first select it, right click on the selection and click on “Summarize”. To enable the summary feature, click on the app name in the status bar (“Chrome” for instance) > Services > Services Preferences… >  scroll down and check “Summarize”.

13. Create more screen space with Retina Screen Macs

scale retina screen

If you own a Mac with a Retina display you can scale the screen to create more screen space for you to work with. This feature also works if you have a second monitor connected to your main Retina device. Usually, if you’re using the “More Space” scaled resolution and connect a second screen, it will jump back to the standard setting. To get more space again, visit the settings and adjust the display scaling one more time.

If you’re changing the scaling of your Retina screen often, the quickest and easiest way for you to access the menu is by pressing ⌥ + F1 or F2 (screen brightness up/down keys).

14. Hot Corners

hot corners

Hot corners allow you to trigger certain events by touching a corner of your screen. You can start and disable a screensaver, open mission control, application windows, show the desktop, dashboard, notification center or lauchpad or put your display to sleep.

To avoid triggering Hot Corners accidentally, you can assign a key to hold down to trigger an action.

To open Hot Cornets settings go to System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver > Screen Saver tab > Hot Corners…

15. Open finder folder in new window

folder in new tab or window

To open a folder in a new window or new tab, double-click it while holding ⌘, much like you would do in Chrome, Safari or Firefox to open a page in a new tab.

16. Disable notifications with one click

Annoyed by notifications constantly bothering you? Sick of those little fly-ins in the top-right corner of your screen every time someone messages you on Facebook or sends you an annoying Gif on Slack, simply hold ⌥ and press the Notification Center icon in the menu bar (the one with three lines in the top-right corner of your screen). Once you’ve done that, you will see that the Notification Center icon is not grey instead of black, which means that you won’t see any notifications until you turn it back on.

Very useful if you’re about to present something in front of an audience or if you’re in a meeting where other people might see your screen.

OS X is awesome

As you can see, OS X has quite a lot of hidden useful features. And this list is far from being complete.

Please share your favorite Mac hidden gems with everybody in the comments!

Daniel's passion is optimizing stuff, making it work better and faster. He likes tech, entrepreneurship and the outdoors. You can find him on Google+ and Twitter. Online Marketer | Entrepreneur | Hard Worker | Smart Thinker | Techie
  • Nicola Redman

    Great, some nice little secrets in there!
    Nicola
    Northern Irish voice
    http://www.nicolaredman.com

    • DanielBulygin

      Thanks a lot!

  • Awesome tips! That’s why I love my Mac so much 😀

    One more thing:

    [Cmd + ` ] to switch windows within the same app, e.g. 2 windows of Chrome ( ` is below [esc] )

    • DanielBulygin

      Doesn’t work for me 🙁

      • Um…. let me try it in different machine in Apple Store….

        Btw, I often use this key-combos in Chrome and Safari, when I share links in new window and copy text I needed.

    • Agent Of Death

      [ctrl + tab] will do that.

  • Sebass van Boxel

    Summarize?! Holy fuck, that’s genious.

  • Sarath

    Nice, its true that there are still more features hidden in Mac that you can explore if you are an enthusiast !

  • Abi1984613

    Thanks for the useful tips. There are some very obvious features that are missing from the OS, and maybe someone has a workaround. For example:
    1. It’s useless to name desktops “desktop 1”, etc. How can I give them meaningful names, so I know which is which without having to remember?
    2. Desktops are supposed to help you work simultaneously on separate projects while keeping things in order. But it is impossible to determine which hidden or minimized window is in which desktop. This means you either have to keep all windows on the desktop at all times, resulting in clutter, or ctrl-cursor-down to see all windows in a particular application, scroll through each of them, open it, and see if it’s the one you want, discover that it’s not the one, and repeat the process again. There should be a feature that allows you to concentrate on one desktop, and/or one to help you easily determine which window is in which desktop.
    3. There are problems with consistency of controls for different applications. For example, in Safari you go back by moving two fingers to the right. But in Finder this obvious feature is missing. You have to command-up to go up, then go where you want. Nobody at Apple thought of that? (Related to that, why aren’t there one-hand controls for moving around and opening files in Finder?)
    4. Mail is lacking the very useful optional feature that exists in Outlook, of keeping replied messages in the same folder as the original message.
    5. Calendar doesn’t know about links. You need to copy and paste them into a browser as text.
    6. When right-clicking on a file, you can either open it in a new window or in a new tab (depending on the Finder options), but not both. Duh!

    Sorry for just complaining. But again, if anyone knows ways to actually implement these very useful (and obvious, I think) features, I would be happy to know.

    Thanks!

    • excitive

      One hand control for opening a file: Double-click!
      (Yes Macs do not have an ‘Enter’ key but that’s traditional)

  • Haani Nehvi

    press command and t at the same time while listening to itunes… IT IS AWESOME… WATCH IT

  • Fredrik Månsson

    Abi1984613 , the solution on your #2 problem is Totalspaces2.

  • Abhishek

    amazing tips man..!!!! i really liked it thankyou 😀

  • Abby

    How can I use the summarize option without a mouse? (I have the macbook pro 15 retina display-A-1398). Or do I have to buy a mouse for my macbook? Thanks in advance!

    • The Plothole

      Click in your trackpad and drag. Then two finger tap (or control+tap) to bring up the contextual menu.

  • abby

    More questions… Why does this article state that it is from April 2014, yet there are comments from over a year ago? Also, after spending an hour on the phone with a microsoft office tech support team, they explained to me that the summarize function was removed, and is no longer available in any office programs made after 2008. Therefore, it no longer exists, as it will not work on the OS for current MacBooks. Your article is very misleading!!!

    • Bob

      Microsoft office? This is Apple, not Microsoft

      • CwazyWabbit

        You can get Microsoft Office for the Mac and as Abby says the summarise function isn’t available in Microsoft Office anymore on Macs. Works fine in Chrome though.

    • Chris

      Shut up all of them work on my Mac except a few.

  • Aero Windwalker

    Wow the summarize feature is so useful for this article. JK.

  • boydp182

    What a great list. Most of these features is why I continue to use Mac. The spacebar feature to preview files is probably my most used feature.

  • boydp182

    Mac has so many cool features that many people first buying a Mac or even had it for years don’t know most of the neat features. Apple should have a file on all new macs that is a video or presentation to point out these features. Just weird they don’t and they leave people not knowing most of them probably ever.

  • Gregory Shnootzel

    Pah. I’ve known all those forever.

  • Jonathan Nabais

    Thank you for this post.

  • Julius Cesar

    I summarized this article and all I got was “OS X is awesome”!

    • DanielBulygin

      You see, it works 😀