How to Get the Most from the Mac’s Launchpad

When OS X Lion was rolled out, we were given several new technologies to add to our toolbox of Mac goodness. One of these, Launchpad, falls into a unique category in that people either love it, or they hate it.

Perhaps “hate” is a bit extreme, but most “tech-savvy” types lambaste Launchpad as an overly simplistic tool of little or no value. The reality is that Apple simply isn’t catering to them—they can take care of themselves quite well, thank you very much.

Launchpad is really targeted toward the majority of Apple’s current and future customer base—the typical Mac user who just wants to jump in and get the job done with no fuss. More importantly, they are likely to be already familiar with the iOS interface, and Launchpad mimics the iOS device’s Home Page.

This means that Launchpad gives the Mac a familiarity that unifies the user experience across all devices: pages of application icons, swiping from page to page via a trackpad, creating folders, and deleting folders and app icons. Launchpad even comes complete with “jiggling” icons. The end result is that Launchpad can indeed be quite useful to many happy Mac users.

Let me show you some tips for making the most of it in both Lion and Mountain Lion.

A typical Launchpad screen

Customizing the Launchpad screen

Launchpad is generically known as an application launcher. By default, you can gain access to Launchpad via its icon located in the Dock. That’s right – Launchpad is an application itself located in the Applications folder.

Opening Launchpad reveals a screen full of application icons, similar to what is displayed on an iOS device’s Home Page. To launch an app, simply point to its icon, and do a single tap on the trackpad or single click of the mouse.

A Launchpad page can contain up to 35 icons. Only applications or application aliases located within the system’s Applications folder (and the Applications folder in your Home directory) are loaded into Launchpad. If you create a folder inside the Applications folder, then place apps inside the new sub-folder, those apps will appear in Launchpad. If you have an application located elsewhere on your Mac, you can place an alias of it in the Applications folder, and the application will appear in Launchpad.

As Launchpad’s pages are filled with icons, the page count will increase. To switch back and forth between pages, use the two-finger horizontal swipe gesture on the trackpad or drag the mouse. You can also use the Command-left arrow and Command-right arrow shortcut keys on your keyboard. The presence of multiple pages are signaled at the bottom of the screen by one or more thick dots that act as visual indicators of which Launchpad page you are viewing.



Let’s talk folders. As on our iOS devices, what are called “folders” don’t look like the folders we are used to seeing in the Mac’s Finder. Rather, they are square containers sporting the beloved dark linen background.

Creating a folder is easy. Simply drag an app icon on top of another one you wish to group together into a folder. This creates a new folder containing the two apps, and Launchpad suggests a name. Tap/click on the name to change it, now or anytime. A folder can contain up to 35 app icons, and a folder cannot be nested within another folder. To remove a folder, you need to drag the app icons out of the folder one by one. As you get to the last icon, the folder simply vanishes, but all the icons remain intact on the Launchpad page.

An expanded Launchpad folder

An example of a customized Launchpad folder

You can customize Launchpad to your liking at any time. You can: add other app icons into existing folders; drag icons out of folders; rename folders by opening them and tapping/clicking on the name; rearrange icons to your liking by dragging them around within a page or within a  folder; move icons to other pages by dragging them to the screen’s edge and pausing there until the page switches over to the adjacent one; and finally, delete icons.

Deleting icons is not as straightforward, as doing so introduces a bit of risk to your apps. You first need to put Launchpad into “jiggle” mode. There are two ways to enter jiggle mode. The first way is similar to how it’s done on an iOS device—tap-and-hold (or click-and-hold) the screen pointer on any icon until all of them start to jiggle, twitching nervously as if anticipating something about to happen.

The second and quickest method is to hold down the Option key, and the icons instantly go into jiggle mode.

Whichever method is used, you will notice a small delete symbol in the upper-left corner of some of the icons. Why do some icons have this symbol while others don’t? By clicking the delete symbol, Launchpad allows you to immediately delete any apps that you have purchased and downloaded from the Mac App Store. The deleted apps are easily re-downloaded later, if required.

The icons with no delete symbol represent apps that have been obtained outside the Mac App Store. To exit jiggle mode, simply tap/click anywhere on the linen background, press the esc key, or toggle the Option key.

Deleting a Mac App Store app from Launchpad

Clicking on the delete symbol lets you delete Mac App Store apps

For your non-App Store apps, the only way to delete them from Launchpad – and your Mac – is to go into the Applications folder the traditional way, and delete the app from there. You can’t simply move an app out of the Applications folder and expect its icon to be removed from Launchpad.

Let’s say you do move it out of the Applications folder and onto the desktop (while holding down the Command key – otherwise you are simply creating an alias). Launchpad will continue showing the icon and will be able to launch the app successfully.

To make the icon go away, you actually have to go into Finder, move the app to the trash, and finally empty the trash. Only then, will Launchpad recognize that the app is unavailable and remove its icon.

Here’s a tip: if you want to keep an app around, but you don’t want it to show up in Launchpad and do NOT want to delete it from your Mac, you can compress the application via Finder’s File menu. A zipped version of your app is created. You then move the unzipped app to the trash and empty the trash. Launchpad “forgets” the app.  If you later need that app again, simply double click the zip file to decompress the app, make sure the app is located inside the Applications folder, and your app is back in Launchpad.

Finally, let’s not forget Launchpad’s handy search feature. Sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly where an app icon is located in a sea of pages of app icons. You’ll notice a search bar at the top of any Launchpad screen. You don’t have to click in the search bar first, just start typing the name of the app you want, and Launchpad will quickly begin showing you the items that match what you type.

Using the Launchpad search feature

Use Launchpad’s search bar to help find apps

Launchpad makes hunting through an applications folder a thing of the past. You’ve learned how to make it work better for you. If you’re one who didn’t care much for Launchpad, I hope I have sparked some ideas on how to utilize it in your own workflow.