How to Use the macOS App Switcher to Open Files, Hide and Quit Apps, and Launch Exposé

Discussion in 'Guides, How Tos and Reviews' started by MacRumors, May 10, 2018.

  1. MacRumors macrumors bot


    Apr 12, 2001

    Most long-time macOS users will be aware of the Application Switcher. It's invoked using the Command+Tab keyboard shortcut, and lists all of the apps currently running on your Mac, enabling you to quickly switch between them.

    In this article, we'll run through the Mac App Switcher's most basic functions, and then highlight some of our favorite lesser-known App Switcher tricks that you're bound to find useful once you're familiar with it.

    Basic Functions of the Application Switcher

    When you hold Command and press Tab, the App Switcher overlay appears above all other open windows on your desktop, and remains visible until you release the Command key. Letting go switches you to the last active application, prior to the one you were just using. As you might expect, repeating this action switches you back to the previous active app.


    Repeatedly tapping Tab with the Command key held down cycles you through the list of apps in the App Switcher from left to right, while releasing Command takes you to the selected app. If you hold down Shift when tapping Tab, the selection moves right to left.

    You can also press the right and left arrow keys to move the selection box forwards and backwards. A two-finger drag on a trackpad does the same thing, or you can use your mouse cursor to highlight an app in the list and then click to select it.

    Invoke Exposé and Open Files From the App Switcher

    If you press the up or down arrow keys with an icon highlighted in the App Switcher overlay, Exposé will be activated for the selected app, which causes all of its windows to fan out across the screen. (Pressing the 1 key achieves the same result.)


    Open windows are shown front and center, while minimized windows appear along the bottom of the screen. You can use the arrow keys to switch between them and press Enter to open the one you want, or simply select one using your mouse cursor in the usual way.

    An oft-overlooked function of the App Switcher is its ability to open files. Simply begin to drag a file from a Finder window, then invoke the App Switcher and drag the file onto the relevant app icon in the overlay. Let go of the file and it should open in the selected app.


    Close and Hide Apps Via the App Switcher

    Pressing the H key in the App Switcher hides all the windows of the selected app (pressing the H key again reveals them). Try cycling through the overlay with the Tab key and tap H as you go - it's a neat way to quickly clear a space on a desktop cluttered with windows.

    Lastly, highlighting an icon in the App Switcher and tapping Q has to be one of the fastest ways to individually quit open Mac apps, and probably qualifies as our favorite App Switcher trick.

    Article Link: How to Use the macOS App Switcher to Open Files, Hide and Quit Apps, and Launch Exposé
  2. lec0rsaire macrumors 65816

    Feb 23, 2017
    Thanks again for these types of articles. As someone relatively new to macOS (2016), I’m still learning about little features here and there every week. It was only recently that I discovered Cmd+Tab and only because I noticed someone on YT bring up the app switcher and immediately looked it up. I used to just use Mission Control.

    I’ve actually gone back and watched keynotes of the old OS X releases to learn about little features that have long been part of it. Keep these tips coming!
  3. twistedpixel8 macrumors regular


    Jun 9, 2017
    Didn’t know about up/down and H/Q functions in app switcher! Even long-time Mac users learn hidden features of MacOS sometimes!
  4. Sajal macrumors regular

    Mar 27, 2014
    Nice article, did not know few handy things ..
  5. TheralSadurns macrumors 6502a

    Jul 8, 2010
    These recent How-To Articles are REALLY awesome. Most of the times I know the things already... but there are STILL new things to discover... there's no way any one person will know all of these things! Keep 'em coming!!!
  6. star-affinity, May 10, 2018
    Last edited: May 11, 2018

    star-affinity macrumors 6502a


    Nov 14, 2007
    Good article!

    The App Switcher in macOS is (for me at least) one of its strongest user interface aspects – the fact that just the icons of the apps are listed (instead of each window) saves a lot of time when one has several apps open and need to switch between them. Listing each window makes it too difficult to quickly find the right one when a lot of apps and windows are open. But of course a window overview can be good at times, which is when Mission Control comes in. Edit: and you can always use a custom set ”Move focus the next window” set up in System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts >
    to switch between windows in the front application.

    I have the App Switcher mapped to the scroll-wheel button of my mouse (using the mouse driver called SteerMouse) and it makes switching between apps quick and swift.

    One thing the article didn't mention is the fact that you can activate the App Switcher (keep holding ”cmd” after pressing ”cmd tab”) and then simply point at the app you want to switch to (without clicking it) and then release the app switcher (let go of ”cmd”) saves many clicks per day for me. :)
  7. GubbyMan macrumors 6502


    Apr 3, 2011
    The only thing I didn't like about macOS switcher was switching between windows of the same app. This is done using cmd+` but ` on my Swedish keyboard is to the left to the backspace and I have to press it together with shift to use it. Cmd+shift+´ is a really bad combination to press if you just want to switch windows quickly and there is no way to switch in reverse order.

    Luckily, this can be changed from: System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Shortcuts -> Keyboard -> Move focus to next window

    I changed it to just alt+tab. So now I have cmd switching apps, alt switching windows and ctrl switching tabs.
  8. MDJCM macrumors regular


    Sep 12, 2009
    UK, South
  9. barefootguru macrumors newbie

    May 10, 2018
    It’s a shame you don’t seem to be able to turn off the feature @star-affinity appreciates so much: I regularly hit command-tab and then accidentally bump the cursor and am taken to a random app.
  10. philosopherdog macrumors 6502a


    Dec 29, 2008
    You’re missing the all time classic how to bring back a minimized app! Command tab to it. Hold down tab and move the finger from command to option. Let go of tab. Profit!
  11. Stella, May 10, 2018
    Last edited: May 10, 2018

    Stella macrumors G3


    Apr 21, 2003
    I like the App switcher in Keyboard Maestro - being able to force quit an app, mark multiple apps for closing, hiding etc. Also, the UI can be made smaller. The default Mac app switcher is too large, and limited.

    LiteSwitch X was better, alas, no longer active.
  12. katanna macrumors 6502


    May 6, 2004
    Trying to hold Command and Shift and pressing Tab to go backwards is a bit of a hassle. Instead, once you initiate the App Switcher by pressing Command-Tab, you can continue holding Command and tap the key above the Tab key (the key with the Tilde, or "~" on it). This will also go backwards on the list, and is far easier than trying to hold Shift.
  13. macguru212 macrumors regular


    Apr 17, 2009
    Been using command tab q for years - love it! People who are unaware of this usually get their minds blown by it lol.

    Didn't know about H though, you learn something new every day.
  14. BrettArchibald, May 10, 2018
    Last edited: May 10, 2018

    BrettArchibald macrumors member


    Jul 31, 2007
    This tip is gonna be a lifesaver for me! I've used the UK keyboard layout on Macs since forever, but I recently got a US MacBook, and the difference in layout, specifically the Cmd~, has been driving me mad! Trying to stretch my fingers up to where ~ is on the US keyboard just doesn't come naturally to me after sooooo many years of doing it on the UK layout. This is made all the worse by the fact that I use a UK keyboard at work but the US keyboard at home.
    So hopefully switching them BOTH to Alt-Tab instead means that I will get used to doing it naturally after a while, and I won't have to think about it any more!
    Thanks for the tip! :)

    Unfortunately though, I cannot seem to over-ride the keyboard shortcut for switching between open windows/tabs in Adobe Illustrator, neither using Adobe's own Edit Keyboard Shortcuts options, nor using macOS System preferences! It will NOT accept Alt-Tab or Ctrl-Tab!! :mad:
    So if anyone knows how to over-ride that, I'd appreciate finding out how...
  15. sailmac macrumors 6502


    Jan 15, 2008
    Thanks for the article. I've been using the switcher for years and didn't know about the arrows or that a file can be dragged onto it. These little gems are adding value to the MR site.
  16. joesegh macrumors 6502

    Jun 17, 2009
    New Jersey, USA
    Also another useful trick for multi-window applications (Finder, email, etc.): Cmd+` allows you to cycle through the windows of a single application. Unlike in Windows Alt-Tab, Cmd-Tab does not allow you to access individual windows of an app by default.
  17. mcpryon2 macrumors 6502a


    Dec 12, 2008
    I love using it, but I wish it worked right on my iPad when using a keyboard. It always shows apps that aren’t even open, or haven’t been for a while, and doesn’t show open apps. I haven’t been able to find much about it to see if it’s an issue or what to do about it.
  18. badtzmaru56 macrumors newbie

    Jul 23, 2013
    I was about to post this god-send of a tip too, but I noticed you already did! Although you've got the keys the wrong way around.

    The correct way is to Cmd+Tab, hold down CMD and then move your finger from tab to option (alt), then let go of CMD. My all time favourite use of the application switcher.
  19. star-affinity macrumors 6502a


    Nov 14, 2007
    I agree it should be possible to turn it off, but I don't think I've ever triggered it accidentally like you describe – the keys are pretty wide apart. :)
  20. biziclop macrumors newbie

    Jan 16, 2012
    Cmd-Tab & Cmd-Q is nice, except when you want to do something else after quitting an application. The app starts quitting, and when it actually quits (which can be a quite random interval), the focus goes to the next application, instead of the focus disappearing. So you will be quit or switch to the second intended application … or a third innocent one.

    It drives me crazy. It's the typical case of someone fixing a thing that already worked perfectly. :(
  21. Internet Enzyme macrumors 6502a

    Internet Enzyme

    Feb 21, 2016
    I used to use “cmd” plus the grave symbol to switch windows but for some reason at some point that command disappeared for me as i updated oses i believe. I should definitely fix that because it is a very useful command
  22. Saturn007 macrumors 6502

    Jul 18, 2010
    So much simpler to just click on the app's icon in dock!

    Or, click on a background window of the app you're moving to.
  23. star-affinity macrumors 6502a


    Nov 14, 2007
    This I didn't know about – thanks! Not that I minimize windows very often, but good to know there's a way to get hold of them from the App Switcher. But I see it only deals with one window for each app – if I minimize more than one window the others can't be un-minimized(?).
  24. C DM macrumors Sandy Bridge

    Oct 17, 2011
    Not when you are already doing something on the keyboard (and just need to switch to the last app you were using, for example).
  25. star-affinity macrumors 6502a


    Nov 14, 2007
    Too requires too much movement of the pointer back and forth. The pointer is usually somewhere in the middle of the screen when working with the computer. It sure does happen that I just click the icon in the Dock, but most of the time the app switcher is the quickest way.

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