OS X: Application Switcher Power Tips

| How-To

If you're like me, you probably have lots of apps running on your Mac at any given time. Using the Application Switcher (aka Command + Tab) is a great way to jump between open apps, but there are quite a few things that you might not know it can do. When combined with Command and Tab, there are four other keys which will make you a master of running multiple apps.

First, the basic app switch. To show the Application Switcher (as most of you already know), hold Command and press Tab. A row of app icons which represent just about every app running on your Mac will appear. Letting go of Command will hide this list and switch your focus over to the highlighted app. To switch to another, simply hit Tab again. Repeat until you've selected the desired app and release Command. Easy enough.

Application SwitcherApplication Switcher

Now let's say you have lots of apps running and the app that you want is either eight steps to the right or one step to the left. Instead of hitting Tab to move forward through the list, press the ` key (the little sqiggle and line below the Esc key on most keyboards) to move backwards.

Next, what if you have lots of open apps that you want to quit? Simply jump into the App Switcher, highlight the app you want to quit, and press the Q key. You can then jump around between other apps in the switcher, doing the same with other apps which you want to quit.

Similar to the Quit trick, you can also hide apps from the App Switcher. If you already know how to hide apps from the keyboard, this will be familiar. Again, start out in the App Switcher and highlight the app you want to hide. Then press the H key to hide. It's as simple as that!

Now for the most illusive and enjoyable addition to the Command-Tab mix: If you switch to an app which has every window minimized or closed, the only thing that will happen is the Menu Bar will change. In order to call up one of the app's windows, you'll need to modify the switch. To do this, bring up the App Switcher and highlight the desired app. Now, before you let go of the Command key, press and hold the Option key. Doing this will show the app's default window or bring up the most recently minimized one.

That's it! You're now a pro at using your Mac's Application Switcher. If you have any others, share below in the comments. Happy switching!

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Lee Dronick

Thanks for the tips, I did not know the one about using the grave accent character to move left.


You can also use the App Switcher to open files, but this maneuver is a little trickier to get used to.

What you do is 1. select a file(s) and starting dragging it, then 2. activate the App Switcher, and 3. hover over the desired application. Then you have to release your mouse or touch click BEFORE you release the command key. If you take more than about 1.5 seconds, the highlighted app will flash and you will automatically jump into it. But - if you miss the window and as long as you’re still holding down the command key, you can just hit the tab key and try again. Or you can hit the escape key to let go of whatever files you were dragging.

I’ve found this function useful for opening file types to applications that aren’t the default, rather than going to the application’s “open” menu command, or fishing around the “open with” contextual menu. Like if I want to listen to a batch of MP3 recordings without adding them to iTunes’ library, for example.

Michael Johnston

xmattingly: Hey cool, I didn’t know you could do that. Makes sense though!


As a recent convert, this is really helpful.  I’d known about the Command-Tab and using the directional arrows, but the ‘H’ and ‘Q’ are really nice too!

A question though.  I use Chrome and will have two separate browsers open at a time. One for personal and one for Work.  The only way I know to move from one browser to the other is select ‘Window’ and change browsers. Any cool tricks to move from one to the other?


Joe, you can switch between windows of a particular application (such as your browser windows) using command-` (the key right above the tab key) without hitting the tab key first (otherwise, you’ll just pull up the app switcher and move the selection to the left as mentioned in the article above.

If you want to change between browser tabs, command-shift-] will move you to the right in your tabs and command-shift-[ will move you left in your tabs.


Holding the shift key (command+shift) and then the tab key will move to the left too.


Cmd-` never cycles through apps for me, Just through the windows in the current app.

Cmd-shift-tab does cycle through the app, in reverse order.


Thanks Pascal!

Dirk Lenz

Great tips, thank you.
I accidentally clicked cmd-1 while in the application switcher – which brought up Exposé for the highlighted app.

Nabeel Nasir

Great article. I hate to use my mouse while working. For me the transition to mac from windows was painful since I didn’t know any shortcuts and was forced to use my mouse! :( Picking up useful stuff from articles like yours. smile

I have one thing to share: if you have multiple windows of the same application - say you have two windows of Firefox, you cannot switch between these using the application switcher (at least I didn’t find a way to). Instead of Cmd-Tab, you can directly use Cmd-Tilde (the button under Esc) to do this for you. Hope someone finds this useful.

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