How to get more from Application Switcher on a Mac in 5 minutes

A few minutes is all it takes to get better at using an OS X feature you should be using every day

Apple, OS X, Mac, Mac OS X, macOS, MacBook, Application Switcher, Hints, Tips, How to
Credit: Jonny Evans

Application Switcher in OS X is one of those features many of us use every day without question, zipping between open apps with the press of the Command and Tab keys.

[Also read: 15 keyboard shortcuts Mac users need.]

But it does so much more

You see, like so much about the Mac, Application Switcher can also be used to get other things done, helping you become more productive (maybe) and no doubt magnifying your capacity to impress and attract your opposite sex(es).

So, what do we think we know? We know that when we press Command-Tab a window appears on screen within which we can cycle through all active applications. We may also know that if we press Command-Shift-Tab we can cycle backward through the open apps. (Or use the left and right arrows to move across the list).

When the application that is required is selected one just releases the keys and it becomes the active, foreground app. This is a great way to zip between applications when trying to get things done, particularly (but not exclusively) when using a MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro, because it enables you to avoid digging through windows in search of the application you need.

Many Mac users don’t know: In Finder view you have a file of some kind you wish to open – you can double click the item to open it in its default app; you can Control-Click it in order to launch the contextual menu to use the ‘Open With’ command  to choose an alternative app, you can drag and drop it on the relevant application icon in the Dock or your Applications folder, or you can do this:

  • With your cursor, select the file you want to open and begin to drag it across the screen
  • Without releasing the file, tap and hold Command-Tab on your keyboard to launch Application Switcher
  • Now drag the file you wish to open and drop it onto the appropriate application icon in the Switcher
  • The file will open in the application you chose, (if it’s compatible of course.)

Most Mac users won’t know: You can use the above tip to transfer content into different apps without saving selected content to your Clipboard. (Perhaps you have an item already saved to Clipboard you want to use subsequently). Select the content – text from a Word document, Web page or email, for example – and begin dragging it across your screen.

Now without releasing hold of the text tap Command-Tab to get to the application in which you wish to use the material and drop it in there, or wait for the target application to launch and use it then. You may also want to use Command-~ to cycle through to the window within the destination app. You can then add whatever you had stashed in the Clipboard.

Few Mac users know: If you are using a Magic Trackpad or MacBook you have a few more tricks. Use Command-Tab to launch Application Switcher and you can then scroll across the list using the Trackpad to select an item and click to launch it (or hit Return). You can use two fingers to scroll through the list faster, the advantage of doing so is that your on-screen cursor remains where it is – perhaps at that key point you wanted to paste something using Photoshop, for example.

how to get more from application switcher on a mac in 5 minutes AppleHolic

Don't forget...

If you have an active Handoff session you will see this appear as an added item to the left of the Application Switcher and you can select it.

What else does Application Switcher do?

Application Switcher has three other useful commands:

Show open Windows: Press Command-Tab (or Command-Shift-Tab) to get to the application you want to take a look at. Keeping the app selected and with the Command button pressed down, press 1 and you will be rewarded with an Exposé view in which all open windows belonging to that application will be visible. You can also select the app you want to take a look at and press the up or down arrows

To Quit an app: Press Command-Tab (or Command-Shift-Tab) to get to the application you wish to close. With the application selected, keep the Command button depressed and then tap Q.

To Hide an app: Press Command-Tab (or Command-Shift-Tab) to get to the application you want to Hide. With the application selected, keep the Command button depressed and then tap H.

I hope this short report helps you get more from your Mac.

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