13 things you forgot your Mac could do

It’s said we only use a tiny percentage of our brain’s full potential. The same, sadly, is true of our Macs. These wonderful machines, even the oldest of which far outstrips the computing power of the kit that put Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon, spend their days drifting about the web, processing your words and totting up columns on a spreadsheet.

So if you’re worried that you’re not using your Mac to its full potential, here’s 13 things you may have forgotten (or didn’t even know) your Mac could do.

13 things you forgot your Mac could do

1. Dictate offline

OS X Yosemite and El Capitan support offline dictation (Mountain Lion and earlier require an internet connection). You’ll have to download an additional batch of data though, which for English-language users

totals around 440MB. Press the Function (Fn) key on your keyboard twice to start dictation and then select the option to enable Enhanced Dictation and press OK to start the download.

2. Type special characters easily

You’ll already know that holding Option, Ctrl or Shift with certain keys lets you type special symbols, but a lot of fonts include characters that aren’t directly accessible this way. To make finding them easier, add the Character Viewer to the menu bar by opening the Keyboard pane in System Preferences, clicking its Keyboard tab, and then checking the box beside ‘Show Keyboard, Emoji & Symbol Viewers in menu bar’.

Click the new menu bar icon and pick ‘Show Emoji and Symbols’ to call up the viewer, find the character you want to use and drag it into your document or double-click it to enter it at the insertion point’s location.

13 things you forgot your Mac could do

3. Share work with your iOS device

If you’re using an iOS 8 or iOS 9 app that has an OS X Yosemite or El Capitan equivalent (or vice versa) you can hand off tasks between devices, as long as they’re signed in to the same iCloud account. On the Mac, an app’s icon appears to the left of the Dock, ready to be clicked, while on iOS you’ll find a prompt at the bottom of the app switcher, waiting to be tapped.

Handoff needs a Mac and a listed iOS device, and to be enabled in System Preferences’ General pane and on iOS in Settings > General > Handoff & Suggested Apps.

4. Reverse scroll direction

OS X Lion introduced ‘natural scrolling’, which scrolls contents so that it tracks the direction of your finger movement. It’s logical, but if you switch between OS X and Windows or Linux you might want to reverse it so that all of your computers match.

Click Mouse or Trackpad in System Preferences and uncheck ‘Scroll direction: natural’.

5. Reinstate Dashboard

Dashboard has fallen out of favour of late (we’re still hoping to see it reincarnated as a place for running iOS apps).

If you still want to use it and it’s not showing up in Yosemite or El Capitan, reinstate it by opening the Mission Control pane in System Preferences and turning on the Dashboard option.

13 things you forgot your Mac could do

6. Open hidden menus

You’ll already know that clicking the status icons on the right of the menu bar lets you pull down menus for changing the volume and switching Wi-Fi networks, but did you know that doing the same while pressing Option on the keyboard opens up a world of extra options and hidden info?

Option-click Bluetooth, for instance, and you can see the MAC addresses of your devices and create a diagnostics report to help investigate problems; on the volume icon, this lets you redirect the output to alternative speakers; Option-clicking the Wi-Fi icon shows a raft of information about connection speed, channel and so on, all of which helps when you’re trying to select the best connection among competing networks. Option-clicking Notification Centre’s icon toggles Do Not Disturb off or on.

7. Tap your trackpad

Apple’s preference is for physically clicking a trackpad (as such, it’s the only way you can select a user account at the login window).

However, we prefer gentle, quiet tapping. If you’re like us, open the Trackpad pane in System Preferences and check the box beside Tap to click in the Point & Click tab.

13 things you forgot your Mac could do

8. Detach the Dock

If you’re running Google Hangouts, or anything else that pops up notifications from the bottom of the screen, you run the risk of unintentionally dropping something – perhaps a file destined for the Trash – into your Hangouts stream.

To relocate the Dock, Ctrl-click its divider and select Left or Right from the Position on Screen submenu.

13 things you forgot your Mac could do

9. Change your default applications

Don’t like Safari? Then don’t use it. Changing your default web browser is easy: open System Preferences, click General and pick one from the list of browsers installed on your Mac. If you want to use something other than Mail for handling email, launch Mail (yes, we know!), open its preferences, switch to the General tab and pick an option from the pop-up list of installed apps labelled ‘Default email reader’.

You can’t specify a webmail service, so if you routinely use Gmail outside of an app, consider installing something like Go for Gmail (free, Mac App Store).

To switch your default instant messaging app, open Messages’ General preferences, and make a choice from the list labelled ‘Default IM application’.

10. Capture shots of the screen

Take a screenshot by pressing Command+Shift+3. Capture an area of the screen by pressing Command+Shift+4 and then dragging the crosshairs through that area.

The image will be snapped as soon as you release the mouse or trackpad button. To capture a window, press Command+Shift+4 followed by the Spacebar and then click on what you want to grab.

11. Force Quit

If an app freezes, open the Force Quit window by pressing Option+Command+Esc. Select the unresponsive app and then click Force Quit. If you’re certain which app is the problem, hold Option+Command and click its Dock icon, then choose Force Quit.

12. Switch Spaces

You can move apps from one (work)space to another by pressing the Mission Control key (F3) to shrink their windows and then dragging them to another space to the row at the top of the screen.

If you only want to move them one space left or right of where they already are, it’s easier to drag from a window’s title bar all the way to the left or right edge of the desktop, avoiding Mission Control entirely.

13 things you forgot your Mac could do

13. Volume variations

If you’ve unchecked the option ‘Play feedback when volume is changed’ in your Mac’s Sound preferences, holding Shift while pressing the volume keys temporarily re-enables the preview sound until you release the key.

Holding Shift+Option lets you make smaller changes, moving up or down the scale by a quarter-step rather than the usual full step you’ll jump with the volume keys alone.