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15 Mac hacks everyone should be using

Macs have long been praised for their ability to perform actions outside the remit of Windows computers. Even so, many users still aren't aware of every trick that can be performed on a Mac or every hidden feature that can be accessed.

Whether you have an iMac, a Macbook Pro or a Macbook Air, here are some of the most impressive hacks to use with your Mac.

1. Bring up the emoji keyboard and add emojis on Mac

As we use emojis more in everyday messaging, it’s great to be able to bring up the emoji pane quickly and easily. To do so on a Mac, simply follow this method:

  1. Position your cursor in the text field where you’d like to add an emoji
  2. Hit: Command + Ctrl + Space (See our article on Mac keyboard shortcuts for more details)
  3. The emoji keyboard pane will appear on your screen
  4. Scroll through all the available emojis and categories or use the search box at the top of the window
  5. Click the emoji you want and it will appear in your text box.

Please note that this doesn’t work in every text entry field, but usually works in messages and email. Emojis that fail to render are typically displayed as a triangle.

2. Use Spotlight as a calculator

Mac users can use Spotlight as a calculator using the following method:

  1. Hit Command + Space to launch Spotlight
  2. Type your equation (for example, 1 + 1)
  3. The answer will immediately appear as the search result in Spotlight

3. Take screenshots using the Snipping tool

The ability to take screenshots is a great feature. There are a few added facets to using the Snipping tool on a Mac screen:

  • Capture a specific area:
    - Hit Command + Shift + 4 and you’ll get a crosshair that you can drag with your mouse to capture the area you want
  • Capture an entire window:
    - Hit Command + Shift + 4, then let them go
    - Hit the Spacebar
    - Now you can click on any window you want and take a shot of that entire window, shadow included
  • Capture the desktop:
    - Hit Command + Shift + 3 to take a shot of your entire desktop

4. Sign PDFs in the Mail app

As more official documentation is filed digitally, it is increasingly important to be able to sign documents such as PDFs digitally.

First, you need to capture your signature to reuse in PDFs. You can do this with your mouse, trackpad or camera.

  1. Open the Preview app on your Mac
  2. If the Markup toolbar isn’t showing, click the Show Markup Toolbar button
    Mac Hacks
  3. Click the 'Sign' button
    Mac Hacks
  4. Create and save your signature:
    a) Using your trackpad:
    i. Click ‘Trackpad’
    ii. Click the text as prompted
    iii. Sign your name on the trackpad using your finger
    iv. When your signature appears in the window, click ‘Done’ (or click ‘Clear’ to try again, if you don’t like the results)

    b) Using your computer’s built-in camera:
    i. Write your signature on a white piece of paper
    ii. Click ‘Camera’
    iii. Hold your signed paper in front of the camera so that your signature is level with the blue line in the window
    iv. When your signature appears in the window, click ‘Done’ (or click ‘Clear’ to try again, if you don’t like the results)
  5. Add your signature to a PDF
    a. Choose the signature you want to use
    b. Drag it to where you want it
    c. Use the handles at the corners and edges of the box to adjust the size

5. Make an Apple icon anywhere

To make an Apple icon quickly and easily in text messages, emails and text  documents, just hit Option + Shift + K.

6. Initiate the ‘Do Not Disturb’ setting

The Notification Centre in OS X is home to all the apps and websites on your Mac that require permission to send you alerts. If you want to disable notifications for your Mac, you can do so quickly using the following method:

  1. Hold down the Option button on your keyboard
  2. Select the Notification Centre icon in the Menu Bar and it will shade itself out, signalling that DND (do not disturb) is turned on

7. Rename files in bulk

Renaming files in bulk can save valuable time and help to ensure file naming conventions are consistent. To batch rename files in Finder:

  1. Highlight the files you want to rename
  2. Right-click on any of them
  3. Select ’Rename # Items’ from within the menu that appears
  4. The rename utility will pop up over your files
  5. You can now select how you want to format your filenames. For example, if you type ‘Travel Photo’ into the ‘Custom Format’ textbox the files you have selected will be named ‘Travel Photo 1,’ ‘Travel Photo 2’ etc (you can change the format and the numbering as you wish)
  6. Click ’Rename’ when you’re finished

Mac Hacks

8. Send and receive text messages from your desktop

It’s great to be able to send and receive text messages on your Mac, especially if your iPhone battery is low or you don’t have it to hand. It’s even possible to send and receive text messages from people who don't have iPhones. Here's how:

There are two different types of message you can send and receive on your Mac - normal text messages and iMessages (which are sent via Apple's servers).

Sending text messages to iPhone users

  1. Click on the Messages icon in the dock (you can search for it by pressing Cmd + Space and start to type Messages)
  2. Sign in using your Apple ID (the one associated with your iPhone)
  3. Select the new message icon
  4. Place your cursor in the To: field
  5. Type the phone number of the recipient and press ‘Enter’

Please note: if you've synced your Contacts with your Mac you should be able to click on the ‘+’ sign to add people directly from your contact list.

Log into your Apple ID in Messages on your Mac to receive iMessages sent by those with iPhones. These messages will also appear on your iPhone.

If the recipient has an iPhone, a blue box will be added to their number and they will receive your text as an iMessage. How your details appear on their phone depends on whether you’re already set up as a contact. If not, for example, they may see your Apple ID email address as the identifier rather than your phone number.

Sending text messages to non-iPhone users

When entering the recipient’s contact details, if you see a red box against the To: field, they are not registered with iMessage. Any attempt to send will result in the message: ‘Your message could not be sent’. The way round this is to allow your Mac to send messages via your iPhone. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sign into iCloud on your Mac and iPhone using the same Apple ID, if you haven’t already
    a. On your Mac, go to System Preferences > iCloud and sign in using your Apple login details 
    b. On your iPhone, check the Apple ID account you are using is the same
  2. Open Messages on your Mac
  3. Go to Settings > Messages on your iPhone
  4. Hit ‘Text Message Forwarding’. Your Mac will be listed here with an on/off slider next to it
  5. Change the slider to green (on) to allow your Mac to send and receive text messages
  6. You will be prompted to enter the code shown on your Mac
  7. Enter the code and wait for the device to be verified
  8. When you add your friend's non-iPhone mobile number it will have a green box, indicating that you are sending a text message

By following the steps above, you will also be able to receive text messages from a non-iPhone on your Mac.

9. Access the dictionary from anywhere

Mac users can look up the definition of words using Spotlight. There is a handy shortcut to do this quickly:

  1. Hover over the word in question
  2. Tap the touchpad with three fingers

This will result in a pop-up that contains the definition of the word, as well as synonyms from the thesaurus.

You may find it takes a few attempts to get the three-finger tap right, but once you’ve mastered it the process will become muscle-memory and you’ll find it easier to launch first time, every time.

Mac Hacks

10. Invert the colors on your screen

Inverting the colors on your screen can be useful for those with color blindness, as it makes it easier to distinguish colors from each other.

Inverting colors can also be useful if you’re trying to read a webpage with yellow text on a black background or another hard-to-read color combination, as you can simply switch all colors to black and white with this command. Others prefer to invert colors when using their computer at night, as it switches white backgrounds to black, reducing the brightness.

To invert the colors on your Mac screen, follow this simple method:

  • Control + Option + Command + 8

11. Dictate to Siri

The ability to dictate is very useful, especially for those who want to make notes or even dictate long-form content while doing other activities. Dictation software has been around for many years but has not yet become as ubiquitous and widely used as expected. This is, in part, due to challenges with the software and its ability to accurately define words in speech.

Recent developments with machine learning have vastly improved voice recognition. Key to this has been the ability to learn the voice of individuals. The more you use dictation, the better it will get at ‘hearing’ you.

Here’s how to set up dictation using Siri:

  1. Choose the Apple menu > System Preferences
  2. Click ‘Keyboard’
  3. Click ’Dictation’
  4. Turn on Dictation
  5. Choose from these options:
    a) Enhanced Dictation - this allows you to use dictation when you're not online
    b) Language and dialect - be aware that some languages have multiple dialects, for example English US vs English UK
  6. Choose the keyboard shortcut you will use to start dictating, for example: Control + Option + D. The default shortcut is Fn Fn (press the Fn key twice)
  7. Choose which microphone you want to use from the pop-up menu below the microphone icon
  8. Once complete, go to a document or other text field
  9. Place the cursor at the point you want to start dictating
  10. Execute your keyboard shortcut for starting dictation (you can also choose Edit > Start Dictation)
  11. To stop dictating, click ‘Done’ below the microphone icon, press Fn once, or switch to another window

12. Airdrop files to and from other Apple devices

AirDrop allows you to wirelessly send documents, photos, videos and other media to nearby iPhones, iPads, laptops and desktop Macs.

  1. Choose Go > AirDrop from the Finder menu bar (you can also select AirDrop in the sidebar of a Finder window)
  2. The AirDrop window will show all nearby AirDrop users (who have AirDrop enabled). Drag and drop files to recipients
  3. The recipients will be presented with the option to decline or accept your request. This is what will happen to your phone if you receive an Airdrop from another Apple device
  4. Once accepted, the content is saved to the recipient’s Downloads folder

Mac Hacks

13. Move or hide the Dock

The Dock is the bar of app icons on your desktop screen. Hit Command + Option + D to instantly hide it. Hit them again to bring it back. 

14. Adjust the volume in smaller increments

While there are volume controls on your keyboard, some people find the increments too large and would prefer the volume to be somewhere between two existing increments. By executing the following shortcut, you can get a more precise volume control.

Hold down Shift + Option and tap the Volume Up or Down keys. You will then be able to fine-tune the volume level either up or down.

15. Type special characters

If you ever need to type special characters such as é, è or ü, all you have to do is hold the main letter key down and a menu of options will pop up.

Some symbols have specific shortcuts, for example:

  • ç is Option + C
  • œ is Option + Q 
  • ¥ is Option + Y
  • € is Option + Shift + 2

Other special symbols can be found in the Character Viewer pane.

  1. Hit Control > Command > Space to bring up the ‘Character Viewer’
  2. Click Command to expand the window and browse characters by type
  3. Double-click your preferred symbol to insert into your document.

Mac Hacks

Lastly, remember that we make CCleaner for Mac, to keep your machine running clean, safe and fast.

If you have any comments please tweet us. We're @Piriform.

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