When you want to work in an app on the Mac, you have to launch or switch to it, and Apple provides plenty of techniques for those tasks. You can double-click an app icon in the Finder, click an app icon in the Dock, double-click an app’s document, or open Launchpad (click the rocket icon in the Dock) and click an app icon.
But most of these techniques involve knowing where an app’s icon is—on the Dock, on a screen in Launchpad, in a folder somewhere. What if all you want to think about is the name of the app? Is there any way to open an app quickly without having to locate and click something? Indeed there is, thanks to Spotlight.
You may be familiar with Spotlight as a search tool that can ferret out information on the Internet, including flight-arrival times, weather forecasts, and Wikipedia entries. But Spotlight can also find all types of files on your Mac, including apps. And, when it finds an app, Spotlight can launch or switch to it. Follow these simple steps:
- Press Command-Space to display the Spotlight search field in the center of your screen.
- Begin typing an app’s name, such as “pa” for Pages or “ma” for Mail. For apps whose names have multiple words, you can also type the first letter of each, as in “ic” for Image Capture. And if an app name is a single InterCapped word, it’s fine to enter just the capitalized letters, as in “ft” for FaceTime. Spotlight searches, and while it should take less than a second, if the app you want doesn’t appear at first, wait a few seconds.
- If Spotlight highlights the app you want to launch as the top hit, press Return to open it. If it’s not the top hit, you can either continue typing to narrow the search or arrow down to it in the list and then press Return.
The next thing that happens is that the selected app becomes active. Pretty cool! As you might guess, you can use the same technique to open documents or even system preference panes.
Cleverly, Spotlight is adaptive. For example, say you type “nu” and Spotlight’s top suggestion is Network Utility, but you select the second choice, Numbers instead. After that, Spotlight knows that “nu” should display Numbers as the top choice.
That’s all there is to know about launching apps with Spotlight, but for those who want to learn more about Spotlight, we have two tips:
- If you don’t like Command-Space as Spotlight’s keyboard shortcut, you can change it. Go to System Preferences > Spotlight, and click Keyboard Shortcuts in the lower-left corner of the preference pane. That tunnels you to the Shortcuts pane in the Keyboard preference pane, with “Show Spotlight search” at the top of the right-hand list. Double-click the keyboard shortcut shown on this line, and then type a new shortcut.
- If Spotlight can’t find apps, go to System Preferences > Spotlight > Search Results, and make sure the Applications checkbox is checked. Also, go to System Preferences > Spotlight > Privacy and verify that nothing in this list contains your Applications folder. (It’s fine if the Privacy list is blank.)
Spotlight is a fast way to launch apps on the Mac, and it’s unusual in that you can use it entirely from the keyboard—no trackpad or mouse required!