OS X Lion: Using (and Disabling!) the Character Picker

| TMO Quick Tip

In Snow Leopard, inserting accented letters was not very intuitive (and that’s putting it kindly). If you knew the keyboard shortcut for the letter you wanted, you were golden. But for the rest of us poor schlubs who had to choose the Special Characters menu item and then search for things, Lion’s way of handling this issue seems practically miraculous. Here’s how you use it—and how you disable it if you find that you miss typing “oooooeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaa” all the time.

As TMO’s illustrious Mr. Landau pointed out, all you have to do in Lion is hold down the letter you’d like to accent, and what Apple refers to as the character picker appears.

When you see that, go ahead and select the correct option with your mouse or by hitting the number underneath the one you want. You can also use the arrow keys to highlight your choice and press enter.

Great! Awesome! Fantabulous! Now how do we turn it off? Apple doesn’t provide an easy way to do it, but if we get a little tricksy, we can work around that. It turns out that there’s a preference file in your user’s Library > Preferences folder called ApplePressAndHoldEnabled.plist. To switch the setting within that file, open the Terminal program (it’s within Applications > Utilities) and type the following exactly, then hit enter:

defaults write -g ApplePressAndHoldEnabled -bool FALSE

After that, you’ll need to log out and in again or reboot to force the change to take effect. To switch the preference back to showing you the character picker when you hold a letter down, repeat the above command in Terminal, but replace “FALSE” with “TRUE.”

I love the new features in Lion! And I most especially love them when I can turn them off.

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11 Comments Leave Your Own

mhikl

This is handy Melissa and not obtrusive for those occasional English words that retain accented letters but for multi-lingual writers it is looking good. A bit slow at first when you are used to the old way but for left hand vowels I can see it being faster fairly quickly. I will try using the Lion way over the next few weeks and see how comfortable it becomes but I do find old habits difficult to break.

I learned to type using the old Apple keyboard set-up where the D and K keys had nipples under them as the middle fingers travel less often than the index fingers do and to this day I still think that system makes more sense. The number pad uses the middle finger so Apple wasn’t lost in left field, as usual, with that one. My uncle uses a hot cigarette to deform his keyboards. It would be handy if Apple carried the old style keys so the steadfast could purchase and change them. There is something to be said about intuitiveness. Apple usually gets it but is smart enough to know what trends not to buck, I guess.

Lee Dronick

Thanks Melissa. I know a number of the more common key combinations Option-G for ? and Option-0 for ?, but Lion’s way is great improvement for those I use less frequently.

I think that the Character Viewer is somewhat clumsy and not too intuitive. I would like a way to change the font, if anyone knows a way to do that please share.

Sidebar - You all may already know this trick, but two evenings ago I discovered something in the Control-Click or Right-Click “Look Up” word in Lion. I didn’t not like the way that it brought up a minimal dictionary which made it hard to find alternative words, antonyms and such. Anyway, when you Control-Click on a word to look it up if you click on the gray text “Dictionary” it will open the full Dictionary app and you can proceed as in the days of yore.  Ummm, Apple if you are going to make something a link you make it prominent, you don’t gray it out.

Melissa Holt

I learned to type using the old Apple keyboard set-up where the D and K keys had nipples under them as the middle fingers travel less often than the index fingers do and to this day I still think that system makes more sense.

I agree. I’m sure from Apple’s point of view, that makes the keyboards not as pretty or streamlined, so that may be why they stopped.

Melissa Holt

I think that the Character Viewer is somewhat clumsy and not too intuitive. I would like a way to change the font, if anyone knows a way to do that please share.

I don’t know, but I’ll poke around in the preferences and see if I can find a way.

Sidebar - You all may already know this trick, but two evenings ago I discovered something in the Control-Click or Right-Click ?Look Up? word in Lion. I didn?t not like the way that it brought up a minimal dictionary which made it hard to find alternative words, antonyms and such. Anyway, when you Control-Click on a word to look it up if you click on the gray text ?Dictionary? it will open the full Dictionary app and you can proceed as in the days of yore.? Ummm, Apple if you are going to make something a link you make it prominent, you don?t gray it out.

I did not know that! That’s awesome! Are you sure you shouldn’t be writing tips for TMO? smile

Lee Dronick

I learned to type using the old Apple keyboard set-up where the D and K keys had nipples under them as the middle fingers travel less often than the index fingers do and to this day I still think that system makes more sense.

They are on the F and J keys now, at least on my MacBook Pro and wired keyboard (the low profile aluminum one), have they removed them from current models? Even my iPad, well it’s my wife’s iPad now, has it virtual ones on the F and J keys. Clarification, they are not nipples per se, but raised bars.

Lee Dronick

I did not know that! That?s awesome! Are you sure you shouldn?t be writing tips for TMO?

Well I am between gigs smile

What I want in Character Viewer is to select a font and see all characters and alternate characters for that font. Right now it shows all characters in a category such as Latin or Punctuation and when you click on a character in the right column it shows you related/variations characters.

Okay here is an another amazing discovery I made, but I may just be following in the footsteps of a giants. In Character Viewer there is an Action Menu in the upper left corner, a “gear wheel.” Click on it and you can choose to customize the list to add categories such as Braille, Dingbats, Letterlike Symbols and all sorts of stuff that may be useful for your task. This helps solve my problem of finding the character I want, but only helps. The problem is say you working on a project where you must make sure that the character is viewable across all platforms, that it is in an font installed on both Macs and PCs.

One more Character View tip. You can resize the window and the columns, but it isn’t obvious. We used to have those diagonal lines in the lower right corner of window indicating where you click-hold and drag. Now you can resize from both sides now, but the cursor doesn’t change, it’s a Lion thing. Put the cursor on the dividing line of a column to resize it.

mhikl

Sir Harry, yes the keyboard today is similar to the PC keyboard in that the little lower raised lines are used instead. The nipples were much more practical and were centred on the keys. Since the middle fingers move less, you were sensing the keys more often. Also, our teacher taught us to find them blind and then for assurances, flick the index fingers to touch each other. I miss that and since this topic arose, I have little pieces of duct tape on each key and that has don’t the trick. Don’t know if I would go the burn route.

It does make sense to have one standard and since Apple wants to attract PC plank walkers, this would be one less irritation to them. I’m flexible to many Apple errors.

The option right click thing is ok. I just leave my dictionary open all the time so it is easy to access. I am usual using it for spelling but enjoy the chance to study words on the go. I’ve used mice with two and three button options but some how they never appealed to me. I wonder what that says. I wonder if two button mice are a left brain thing? (I’m on a right-brain, left-brain thing at the moment. There has to be a way to learn to keep our communal-everyting organised round here.

Lee Dronick

I suppose one could put a drop of epoxy on the keys to replicate the nipple on the old keyboards.

I like a two button mouse and consider myself right brained, but in reality I am probably more in the middle tending a bit right. However, a mouse with more than two buttons is something I can not grasp. I am left handed, though they tried to cure me of that sinister condition, I wonder how much that has to do with this.

Melissa Holt

They are on the F and J keys now, at least on my MacBook Pro and wired keyboard (the low profile aluminum one), have they removed them from current models?

Hi Sir Harry!

No, as mhikl said, they’re on the F and J keys. I too miss the “nipples,” even though I’m a terrible typist!

Melissa Holt

Well I am between gigs . . . ::lotsa cool stuff clipped out here::

smile

Those are really interesting things you found, especially resizing the columns. I would have NEVER seen that since the cursor doesn’t change when you hover. Good on you!

Lee Dronick

Those are really interesting things you found, especially resizing the columns. I would have NEVER seen that since the cursor doesn?t change when you hover. Good on you!

Thanks. Bad on Apple as they seem to be forgetting the human user interface guidelines. When a cursor is over a trigger it should change shape appropriately. Strangely I sometimes get the vertical cursor when over a column divider in Character View. It also occasionally changes to the index finger, but I can’t get consistent cursor behavior. Seriously I like Lion, it is tasty, but I think it could have used a few more minutes in the oven.

Test to see if some of the special characters show up here

Recycling character ?

White box with shadow ?

Musical eight note ?

Edit: Nope, I see question marks. I probably would have to enter unicode and I don’t want to take the chance and break the website

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