Tips & Tricks for Common Apps - Mac Tips, Tricks & Shortcuts in easy steps (2015)

Mac Tips, Tricks & Shortcuts in easy steps (2015)


Tips & Tricks for Common Apps

Most OS X apps work fine straight out of the box but you can improve productivity hugely by exploring the options available for these apps. In this section we will look at the common built-in OS X apps such as Mail, iTunes, iPhoto, Safari, Reminders, and others.

Make Mail work for You!

Apple’s mail program is a great Mail client but it is set up fairly simply by default. There are several things you can modify to make it more powerful:

•Customize the Toolbar

•Use signatures for your accounts

•Set up email rules to filter items

•Use Smart Mailboxes to store specific types of email

Customize the Toolbar

There are more items you can add to the Toolbar but these are not shown by default because many people would not want to use them. To beef up the Toolbar:

imageOpen Mail, right-click on the Toolbar and select Customize Toolbar... Drag the items you want to add to the Toolbar and click Done



Using Mail signatures makes a more professional impression, especially if you are using Mail for business purposes.

Use signatures

These are small pieces of text that appear in your emails saving you having to type out your contact details, or paste in your company logo each time. Once you have set up a few signatures (personal, work-related, etc.) you can drag-and-drop these onto the accounts that you want associated with each type of signature:

imageGo to Mail > Preferences > Signatures

imageClick the + symbol and add your signature

imageDrag the signature to each account with which you want to use that signature


Use Rules!

Rules can streamline your email. By telling Mail what you want to do with incoming email you can save yourself the hassle of filing each one individually. For example, emails from your friends can be targeted to a Personal email folder:

imageGo to Mail > Preferences > Rules


Smart Mailboxes

These are like smart playlists in iTunes where you can set up a smart mailbox to store, for example, all emails containing attachments, or emails containing only presentation files created within the last 12 months, and so on.


Safari Tips

Quickly enable Private Browsing

Private browsing lets you view websites without leaving any trace of your visit. There will be no temporary cache files and your history will not show where you’ve been. This is useful if you are using a Mac other than your own:

imageGo to Safari > File > New Private Window (slow method, gets tedious)


imageSpeed up Private Browsing by using a keyboard shortcut: Type Cmd + Shift + N


Make new Safari tabs immediately active

Hold down Cmd + Shift while clicking a link. This brings up a new tab that becomes active straight away.

Merge windows into tabs

Sometimes you have numerous Safari windows scattered across your screen. You can merge these into one Safari window with all the pages now converted to separate tabs:

imageGo to Safari > Window > Merge All Windows

Instantly tidier!

Show all tabs instantly

imageGo to Safari > View > Show All Tabs

imageOr use Cmd + Shift + \


Getting more out of Preview

Merge two or more PDFs into one

Merging PDF files is useful but not intuitive. You can drag one PDF onto another which is open in Preview but when you close the PDF you find they have not merged into one. Here’s how to do it:

imageOpen the first PDF in Preview

imageMake sure you can see the thumbnails on the left hand side

imageClick the triangle at the top left to hide the pages in the first PDF. Drag the second PDF below the first

imageClick on both PDFs in the left pane and save the file


Here you can see the first PDF with its pages hidden (the triangle was clicked to hide the pages).


Here is the resulting merged PDF document.

Reduce PDF file size

PDF files containing lots of images can be huge. It is easy to reduce the file size:

imageOpen the PDF to be reduced

imageGo to Export > Quartz Filter: Reduce File Size

imageClick Save

imageThe PDF will now be very much smaller than before



Stop iPhoto opening when you connect a camera

imageOpen iPhoto > Preferences and under the General tab click the menu Connecting camera opens: Make sure it says No application


imageYou may have to open Image Capture as well. When your camera is connected, click the triangle at the bottom left of the screen and make sure it says Connecting this iPhone opens: No application

Move your iPhoto library to another drive

imageLocate your iPhoto library (in your Pictures folder) and copy to your drive of choice

imageDouble-click the library file and iPhoto will remember where it is

Set up multiple iPhoto libraries

You can add two or more additional libraries by holding down the Option key when you launch iPhoto.


Share Reminders

You can now share your Reminders with other people.

Share a Reminder

imageOpen the Reminders app

imageSelect a reminder or create a new one

imageTo the right of the reminder title you will see a Wi-Fi symbol

imageClick this and add a name or email address

imageYou have now shared your reminder


iTunes Tips

Backup your iTunes library

Hard drives often fail so it is worth backing up your entire music library in the event of a hard drive disaster:

imageGo to ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music


imageDrag this file to the backup drive

imageYour music and other media will be copied across to the backup drive

Moving your iTunes library

If you have a lot of music on your Mac you may want to move the music folder to another location. iTunes will become confused since it will not know where the music folder has moved to so you need to tell it the location of the Music Library:

imageLocate your iTunes files by going to ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music

imageDrag this folder to its new location

imageOpen iTunes and go to iTunes > Preferences > Advanced. Under iTunes Media Folder Location you will see the path of your media folder. To let iTunes know the new location, click Change... and navigate to where the media folder is located


imageThen click Open

Create additional iTunes libraries

imageStart iTunes while holding down Option

imageCreate a new library (similar to iPhoto, see here)


Use iSight Camera for Notes

If you jot things down on post-it notes or scraps of paper you may lose them somewhere. Why not try photographing the bit of paper and uploading to Evernote or dropping into Apple Notes?

Taking a picture

imageLaunch Photo Booth

imageHold your note up so the iSight camera can see it and take a picture

imageDrag to the Desktop

imageOr use a smartphone, or iPad to take a picture and move it to the Desktop so you can access it

imageOpen Notes and drop the picture onto it (or drop it onto Evernote where the OCR software will actually make the text searchable so you can find it easily later)

imageAlternatively, drop it into Word or some other app


Convert DVDs with Handbrake

You can use your Mac to put movies onto your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple TV and other devices very easily. This works with standard DVDs, but not Blu-Ray DVDs:

imageDownload Handbrake (free) from

imageInstall and launch the app

imagePut the DVD you want to convert into the CD/DVD slot of your Mac, and Handbrake will ask you choose the Source

imageChoose the DVD and Handbrake will analyze the files on the DVD and will configure itself so that the largest file (the film) will be at the top of the dropdown menu

imageChoose the output format and click Convert

imageHandbrake will convert the film and save to the Desktop

imageDrop onto iTunes or wherever you want to store it

imageSync with your mobile device


Image Capture App

Most people don’t use Image Capture much. This simple app will mount your camera, iPhone, iPad or any other device with images or videos and display these in its window.

Viewing your media in Image Capture

You can delete photos from your iOS device, drag them to the Desktop or copy the iPhone’s entire camera roll to a folder for editing or viewing:

imageAttach your camera or iOS device to your Mac

imageOpen Image Capture

imageYour photos (and videos if you have any) should all display in the window

imageYou may need to click the black triangle on the left to select your device, especially if you have more than one device plugged into your Mac

imageTo delete an image, click it to select it then click the Delete icon at the bottom of the Image Capture window



You can tell Image Capture never to open when a camera or other device is connected.

Explore your iOS Device

iOS devices like iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches are essentially hard drives which can be plugged into a Mac or PC and mounted. This lets you view all the files on the device.

The iExplorer app works with both Mac OS X and PC. It lets you plug in your iOS device and your folders and files show up ready for deleting or copying to the Desktop. You can even listen to voicemails and download your text messages as a PDF!

Warning: be very careful when it comes to deleting files from your device. It may never work again if you delete a critical file. It is probably wisest simply to use the app to view your photos and videos.

imageDownload iExplorer 3 from

imagePlug in your iPhone or other iOS device

imageLaunch iExplorer 3

imageYou will see the directory structure listing everything on your iPhone or iOS device including music, videos, books, text messages, voicemails, etc.

imageClick the white triangles to view files within folders


Annotate PDFs with Skitch

Annotating PDFs is not only for the business world. The free app Skitch (, now owned by Evernote) lets you drop images or PDFs onto the app and you can add text, shapes and do other cool things.

Another cool thing about Skitch is that it’s totally free!


Here I have opened a PDF file (Skitch restricts you to the first page only) and you can see the number of different save formats Skitch has.