15 Things You Didn’t Know Your Mac Laptop Could Do
You won’t believe what you’ve been missing—and how much easier it will make your life.
The tricks you won’t know how you ever lived without
As with all things Apple, Mac laptops can be complex—and packed full of goodies many users aren’t even aware of. “It’s fair to say macOS remains pretty much unexplored,” says Tetiana Hanchar, author of The Ultimate Mac User Book. “There’s so much you can do with the native features and so many native features that can be enhanced via third-party utilities.” The possibilities really are endless. And that’s why we reached out to some Mac experts to reveal the tips and tricks most Mac users aren’t taking full advantage of…yet. Once you’re just as much of an expert as they are, learn the 14 things you didn’t know your iPad could do.
“Spotlight is one of the most useful features on a Mac, and it keeps getting better with each new version of macOS,” says David Payette, a former Apple employee and the founder of Payette Forward. “The easiest way to open Spotlight is with a simple keyboard shortcut: command-space. When I want to open Safari, instead of mousing over the menu bar and clicking, I press command-space, type sa, and press the return key. You don’t have to click in Spotlight to select what you’d like to open. It’s faster to use the arrow keys on your keyboard and press return when you’re ready.”
Spotlight can help search for anything on your computer, but it can also provide searches within documents and emails. “Spotlight is a lot more than just search,” explains Payette. “If you’d like to open the document’s location in Finder, hold command and double click on the file. You can also look up definitions (just type the name of the word), do math calculations (type 2+2), and do unit conversions (type 100 meters to feet). As far as keyboard shortcuts go, command-space to open Spotlight is by far the one I use most often.”
If you’re looking for other keyboard shortcuts to make your life easier, check out this definitive list of what those F1 – F12 keys can do.
Will Manuel, president and CEO of Core Mobile Apps, uses the shortcut command + shift + 3 to take screengrabs every day. But he adds that users have the ability to take screenshots of only a portion of the screen if they prefer. To do this, he says, “press command + shift + 4, and then, once a crosshair appears, tap and drag that crosshair over the area you want to capture. Once you’ve covered the area you want captured, release. Easy as pie.” And just like that, you’ve got a screengrab of just the portion of the screen you want to preserve.
“Many people don’t know that you can sign your name on a piece of paper, hold it up to your Mac’s webcam, and save your signature in the Preview app on Mac,” says Payette. “Instead of printing out a document, signing it, and rescanning it, you can do the whole process in less than a minute on your Mac.”
The first step? “Save your signature in Preview. To add a signature, open the Markup Toolbar by clicking the ‘marker inside a circle’ icon in the upper right-hand corner of the window. Then, click on the signature drop-down in the toolbar. Look for the cursive J. Click ‘Create Signature’ at the bottom of the window,” says Payette. “From there, you can add your signature using the Trackpad on your Mac, your Mac’s webcam (choose Camera), or your iPhone. My recommendation is to click Camera, sign your name on a white piece of paper, and hold it up to your Mac’s webcam. When you’re ready, click Done.
And then, it’s as simple as clicking on the Signature drop-down menu again and clicking on your signature. “You can drag it and resize it,” he explains. “Then, click the File menu at the top and either save the document or click Share to send an email or iMessage with the pdf document attached.”
Here’s more about how to sign a document on your computer, including how to protect your e-signature from hackers.
Caffeinate your Mac
Let’s say you want to lend your computer to a friend, but you don’t want to share your password. Brett Downes, head of SEO at Studio 54, has a workaround for that: “You can open a terminal window on your Mac. This stops the computer locking down when the loanee takes a break.” That means there’s no need for you or them to type in your password when they come back.
To utilize this function, you’ll need to first launch the Terminal application. You can find this by typing “Terminal” into Spotlight. From there, type “caffeinate” inside the Terminal window that pops up and hit enter/return. “For as long as the Terminal window is open and the command is still running, the computer won’t go to sleep through inactivity, nor will the display,” says Downes. “You’re effectively turning off idle sleep mode, which occurs when OS X detects the user hasn’t done anything for a while.”
To put an end to this caffeinated mode, return to your Terminal window and hit control + C or simply close the Terminal window.
What if there was an easy way to share something from your Mac straight to your iPad or iPhone? Guess what—there is! “Airdrop is a fantastic way to share content between devices that many have not discovered,” says Jemma Wiltshire, website designer and Mac expert at Profit for Passion. “To share from your Mac to your phone or iPad, open up the finder browser and click the Go drop-down. You then click Airdrop and it will list any available devices. Make sure you have Airdrop turned on in the receiving device’s settings. Once the device is in the Airdrop list, you can drag and drop any photo, video, or file you want send. It’s that simple!” That said, make sure you know the one click that can keep your information safe on public Wi-Fi.
Hide your menu bar
Sometimes you just need a little more working space. You can get it by hiding your menu bar. “Find the System Preferences (gear icon), go to General, then click ‘Automatically Hide and Show the Menu Bar,'” says Wiltshire. “If you check this box, the bottom menu will be hidden and will reappear as your mouse pointer goes toward the bottom of the screen.” And just like that, you’ve bought yourself a little extra screen real estate!
“If you need to troubleshoot, share, or maybe create a how-to video screen, recording on Mac is amazing,” Wiltshire says. “All you have to do is go to the application icon and launch QuickTime Player. From the top file menu, select ‘New Movie Recording.’ Then, if it’s not already selected for you, choose your device from the drop-down menu next to the record button. You can also record sound only if needed. Simply hit the record icon to get started.”
If you’re an “all Apple, all the time” person, you won’t want to miss these hidden iPhone hacks you never knew about.
Emojis all the time
If you want to add emojis to your messages quickly and easily, senior electrical and software engineer Blake Sutton of Electrical Knowledge says there’s a keyboard shortcut for that. “Position the cursor in any text field you’d like to insert an emoji, like posting a tweet, for example.” From there, he says to use the keyboard shortcut command + control + space bar to access the emoji keyboard. “Double-click the emoji you’d like to use to insert where you left your cursor.” Just like that, you can add a little personality to whatever you were hoping to send.
Sutton says you can save hours of your time with custom text replacement—shortcuts you can set up to add in key phrases, or even emojis, that you use frequently.
Here’s how to set this up:
1. On your Mac, choose Apple menu > System Preferences. Click Keyboard, then click Text.
2. If you’re working in an app, you can also choose Edit > Substitutions > Show Substitutions, then click Text Preferences.
3. Click the Add button (+) in the lower left, then type the text to replace (such as (c)) in the Replace column, and its replacement (such as ©) in the With column.
Some that Sutton has set up on his own computer include:
- &no –> Appreciate the invite, but I’m going to pass as I’m very busy at the moment.
- &thank –> Thank you very much for your consideration; have a great day!
- zzz –> ?
Lock your screen
“Just like in Windows, you can easily lock your screen on a Mac—but not many people know about it,” says David Walter of Electrician Mentor. “Simply use control + command + Q to lock your screen immediately.” If you’ve got an older version of macOS, before Catalina, the command you’ll need is control + shift + power, or control + shift + eject if your Mac has an optical drive. Just so you know, these are the 12 red flags that someone may be spying on your computer.
Stacy Caprio of Her.CEO says, “My favorite Microsoft Word hack on a Mac is to hit command + F at the same time so that the ‘find a word’ functionality pops up without having to manually slide your mouse to get there. This makes it easy to find a specific word you’re looking for at any time with minimal effort.” This same command also works to find various words in your emails, PDF files, and any website you may be browsing.
Let’s say you want to access files from your Mac, but it’s not nearby. “Through the iCloud, you can easily access and open any file on your MacBook’s desktop from any Apple device, no matter where you are,” says Vickie Pierre, who works exclusively on MacBooks and iMacs as a video editor, producer, and writer for MyCarInsurance123.com.
To activate this setting, she says:
- Click on the Apple icon on the top menu bar, and then select System Preferences.
- Click on the iCloud icon.
- Next to the item marked iCloud Drive, click the Options button.
- To add your desktop to the iCloud, select the Desktop & Documents Folders.
- From there, you’ll be asked if you want to turn on this function. Once you do, a folder will be created in the iCloud with your desktop files.
- To access your desktop from your iPhone or iPad, simply locate the iCloud Drive icon and click on it.
- Once inside, you’ll see the folder you created.
- From here, you’ll have the ability to instantly download any of your desktop files to your iPhone or iPad.
“One feature that has been available on Mac laptops for quite some time now, but one that many people may still not know about or realize the security benefits of, is the FileVault feature,” says ProPrivacy digital privacy expert Attila Tomaschek. “Basically, FileVault will encrypt your Mac’s hard drive and all of the files located on it. Once you have enabled FileVault on your Mac, all of your existing files will be secured via military-grade encryption standards, and any new data you accumulate on your Mac from that point forward will automatically be encrypted as well. The FileVault feature will fully protect all of your data should your MacBook get lost or stolen and end up in the wrong hands.”
To enable FileVault, Tomaschek says you should click on the Apple logo in the top-right corner of your screen and select System Preferences > Security & Privacy > FileVault. Next, he explains, “click on the padlock icon in the bottom-left corner of the window, and enter your admin password. Once you have unlocked permission to make changes to your security settings, click ‘Turn on FileVault.’ You will then be given the option to choose between allowing your iCloud account to unlock your disk or to generate a recovery key. Choose one of the options, then restart your MacBook to start the encryption process.”
Whether or not you encrypt your data, you should definitely avoid these password mistakes hackers hope you’ll make.
Limit ad tracking
Like a lot of different systems, Apple has a habit of tracking your interests and preferences to present you with targeted advertisements. But you can turn this off, according to Tomaschek, by enabling the “Limit Ad Tracking” feature.
“Note that you will still be presented with advertisements, they just won’t be targeted and therefore may not be relevant to your interests since Apple won’t be tracking data related to your preferences while using your MacBook or interacting with Apple apps. Apple doesn’t share this data with third parties anyway, but if you prefer that Apple doesn’t track your behavior either, then simply switch the setting on,” Tomaschek says. “To do so, click on the Apple logo in the top-right corner of your screen and click System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy and then tick the box next to ‘Limit Ad Tracking.’ Note that you may need to click the padlock icon in the lower-left corner of the window and enter your admin password in order to tick the box and enable it to feature.” If ad tracking concerns you, you might want to check out these 15 advertising tricks you didn’t know you were falling for.
Restore old text documents
“There’s an easy way to restore an old version of a text document while keeping the new one,” explains Hanchar. “Many Mac apps, such as Text Edit and Preview, keep older versions of files you’ve been working on, using a versioning feature built into macOS.”
Here are her directions for restoring an old one:
- Open the file, and then in the menu bar, choose File > Revert To > Browse All Versions.
- You’ll see a Time Machine–like interface showing all the versions of that file, going back in time.
- Scroll back to the one you want and click Restore.
- Or, if you want to restore the old one and keep the new one, hold the Option key down. The Restore button will change to Restore a Copy.
And we’re not done with the tips and tricks yet! Next, check out these keyboard shortcuts every Mac user should know.