A Beginner’s Guide to the Mac Cursor

The cursor is the visual representation of the point on your Mac's screen where you are about to perform an action. It is typically an arrow, but can change to a special line when over text. The text cursor is a second cursor that is a blinking line indicating the position where you are typing in a text area. You can increate the cursor size in System Preferences.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: A Beginner’s Guide to the Mac Cursor.

If you're new to Mac one of the terms you may not be familiar with is the Cursor. The cursor is typically this little arrow that moves around on your screen. Sometimes people refer to this as the mouse especially when I get emailed questions people want to know something about the mouse. But the mouse is actually the physical device that you're using. Of course most Macs have a trackpad now rather than a mouse.

The visual representation of where you are on the screen, what you're going to act on, is this arrow here called the cursor. But there are different types of cursors. Two primary ones. This one is called the Pointer or arrow cursor. The arrow cursor is what you use typically to move things around and get things done. So, for instance, let's bring up a Finder window here and you can see I can click on an image using the mouse or trackpad. Whatever is underneath the cursor, that is selected. If I click outside several images I can drag. You can see the cursor is the focal point for the corner of this drag.

Now notice sometimes the cursor gives us extra information. For instance I have four images selected. If I were to start dragging them notice that the number four in a red circle appears underneath the cursor. It's to indicate that I've selected four items and I'm dragging four items.

Sometimes we get other things as well. For instance, in System Preferences in Desktop & Screen Saver, Desktop there's a drop zone where I can drop an image. If I were to select an image and go to drop it notice how I get a green circle with a plus in it. So the cursor there is indicating that I'm about to add something to this drop zone. Sometimes you see indicators like that if you pay attention to the cursor.

Now there' s another type of cursor as well. This is called the Text Cursor. The text cursor is a little line. Let's bring up Mail here. Something you may be writing in. Notice I have my arrow cursor here. I can move that around. Notice I've got a blinking line. That's the text cursor. Now where it gets a little confusing is that if I move my arrow cursor over the text area it changes to another type of cursor. This is called the Insertion Cursor.

So let's do some typing. Now notice that the place where I'm going to put a new character whenever I type, that is where the blinking line is. The text cursor. I can move the text cursor around with the arrow key. So back arrow, forward arrow, left arrow, right arrow, in other words. So I can move around with that. Notice when I do that the regular cursor, the one that works with my trackpad or mouse, goes away to avoid confusion. But as soon as I use my trackpad to move I get this insertion cursor.

The insertion point means I can click and move the text cursor. Think of this cursor here as something that allows you to quickly transport the actual text cursor to another place inside the text you're writing. The blinking line there, that is your actual text cursor and you can use the arrow keys to move that back and forth. Of course wherever you are there when you start typing, that's where the text is going to go.

So there are three main types of cursors. Another type of cursor you may see sometime is a wait cursor. That's a little spinning circle there with colors in it. That will happen only if something is using a lot of processor power and your computer is not able to do anything else at the moment. Something we used to see a lot of years and years ago. You shouldn't be seeing too much of it now though occasionally we can have an app that misbehaves and you end up with one of those. You can move that around the screen just like you can with the arrow cursor. But you can't really do much else with it. You have to wait until you get the arrow cursor back which means you can take action.

Now you do have some System Preferences when it comes to cursors. You can find those in Accessibility and then you want to go to Display. You can see you have a setting there for Cursor Size. So I can make the cursor larger. So if you're having trouble finding the cursor on your screen sometimes you might want to make it larger.

Also you've got the Shake mouse pointer to locate. So notice, you may have seen this earlier in the video, if I shake the cursor it gets larger. The idea is that if you loose it occasionally you may just do a quick back and forth with the mouse or trackpad and quickly your eye goes to where it is. If that kind of gets in your way a lot you can turn it off right here. So that's your only real settings for working with cursors. They're basic and we use them all the time but you may not think about them or know about these options.

Comments: 3 Responses to “A Beginner’s Guide to the Mac Cursor”

    1 year ago

    What about the white cursor when you’re resizing a pasted image? I don’t understand why it changes from black to white and back again.

    1 year ago

    James: Which app are you using when you see this? Sounds like a custom cursor for that specific action. There are plenty of custom cursors in apps like video editors, image editors, etc.

    Bradley Dichter
    1 year ago

    The text editing cursor is an I beam. If you click in some editable text, you will leave behind a blinking vertical line known s the insertion point. You should mention the cursor changes contextually when over certain user interface elements, such as the edge of a window so you can resize it or perhaps the dividing line between column headings in a Finder window. Dragging files from one location or volume to another would show an item count, and this behavior is modified by the option key,

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