Mac App Switcher Tips and Tricks

Most Mac users know how to use Command+Tab to use the app switcher. But did you know you can also hide and quit apps with the app switcher? You can also use the cursor to select an app and even drag and drop documents onto apps. By using other keys, you can navigate to a specific window or even a recently-opened document.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Mac App Switcher Tips and Tricks.

So you probably already use the App Switcher on your Mac. This is when you hold the Command key down and use Tab to switch between apps. But there's a whole bunch of hidden functionality there as well. So let's take a closer look.

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So the basic functionality of the App Switcher is to hold the Command key down and press Tab until you find the app that you want to switch to and then release the Command key. So I'll hold down Command and I'll hit tab and it will appear and now I'll continue to move forward to the app I want and I'll release the Command key and it brings it to the front. I can also do Command, Tab and then hold down the Shift key as I tab and that will go backwards. Notice it loops around. So forward with tab at the end goes to the first app and then backwards with Shift tab goes from the first app to the last app.

You can also, instead of using Shift, Tab you can use the tilde key ~ which on US keyboards is the one above the tab key. So you can use tab to go forward and tilde to go backward. So that's the basic functionality. But you can also use the App Switcher to hide or quit apps. You do this with the H key and the Q key. So I'm going to use Command, Tab to start the App Switcher and then when I get over an app that I want to hide, like for instance I'll go all the way to Pages here, I can just hit the H key. This whole time I still have the Command key held down. Hitting H will Hide Pages.

Now since Pages is already hidden now I can use H to unhide it. So it's a toggle. I can Hide Calendar and bring Calendar up. Now notice it will never replace whatever is the frontmost app but it will become the second most app. So, for instance, if I got to Safari, if I Hide and it was already hidden so it's going to unhide it and move it right behind Preview which is the one I have running in the front.

Now to quit you do the same thing except what's going to happen is when you quit it's going to leave the App Switcher. So it doesn't act like a toggle like H does. So I will just hit Q, and this whole time I've never released by thumb off of the Command key. You can see it Quits Notes. I can just go through the apps here and use Quit and Hide to get rid of apps.

Another thing you can do is you can go to a specific window inside of an app. The way to do that is to use either the Up arrow or Down arrow or the one key. This takes you into a mode where it brings the windows for the current app to the front and you can select one. Then you can use the arrow keys to get around. So I'm going to do Command, Tab to use the App Switcher. I'm going to go to Pages and I'm going to hit the Up arrow. Now you can see I can go into this mode, which is one of the modes in Mission Control, where it shows the currently opened windows, and there's three of them, and also recently open documents at the bottom.

At this point I can release the Command key. I don't need to hold the Command key anymore when I'm here. I can use the arrow keys now to move around. You can see the blue highlight around the window. So the up, down, left, right arrow keys allow me to move around. When I'm over a window I can use the spacebar to bring it closer and I can use Return to not only switch to that app but switch to that app but with that window at the front. Now also in this mode I can not only look at this app but if I use that tilde key again it will switch to the next app and will show me the windows there.

I can, of course, use my cursor also to select what's going on here or use the keyboard. So notice the names of these documents. So here is one that begins with the character 3. If I hit 3 it jumps right to it. So you can actually use the keyboard to find a document that's available here. To escape this mode without ever actually doing anything and to actually leave the App Switcher itself as well I can use the Escape key anytime I want. So I can do Command, Tab and bring this up. Instead of actually going to an app I can just hit Escape and now it exits and I can lift my thumb off the Command key.

Now you can also use Drag and Drop with the App Switcher. Once I'm dragging I use Command, Tab and it brings up the App Switcher. Now I can move this. Drag this onto anyone of these apps but it should be one that accepts this type of document. So I just release my thumb on the trackpad or the mouse and I still was in the App Switcher. I still have the Command key down. I release the Command key and then it opened up this document here.

So as you can see there's more to the App Switcher than just quickly switching back and forth between the apps.

Comments: 10 Responses to “Mac App Switcher Tips and Tricks”

    2 weeks ago

    Gary, I like your new video format and production. Much better. Keep up the good work! – Tommy

    Rick Sovitzky
    2 weeks ago

    Just a general comment. I very much like your new ‘format’ or style of your videos. Do I detect some humor sneaking out now and then?

    Lorenz Rychner
    2 weeks ago

    (Cmd)-Shift doesn’t work for me to go backwards through displayed app icons, but left-arrow does. Mojave 10.14.4
    I like the up-arrow to display all open windows of a given app – very useful.

    2 weeks ago

    Tommy & Rick: Thanks!

    2 weeks ago

    Lorenz: Are you doing just Command+Shift? You need to do Command+Shift+Tab.

    Jerry Naples
    2 weeks ago

    I have taught macOS courses for years and always described the Application Switcher. But I learned 3 new features today. Thanks tons. More than worth my donation to your sponsor

    Terry Converse
    2 weeks ago

    I couldn’t get the up arrow to reveal and access multiple documents. I had opened 2 WORD files to test it out, and the up arrow process didn’t work.

    Bernard Remacle
    2 weeks ago

    Most useful tip on the App Switcher. I have been on Windows for 28 years. Bought my first Mac in September 2019.
    I find Gary’s tips and tutorials most practical, the videos are of just the right duration and the newsletters are great. Thank you for what you are doing, Gary…

    Bernard Remacle
    2 weeks ago

    correction to my above post: Bought my first Mac in September 2018.

    2 weeks ago

    Terry: Which version of macOS are you running? Did you try the down arrow or the 1 key too? How about when the app switcher was showing other apps?

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