macos finder iconMost 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.

macos app switcher shortcuts
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.)

macos expos%C3%A9
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.

drag file mac app switcher

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.

Top Rated Comments

katanna Avatar
49 months ago
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.
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.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
twistedpixel8 Avatar
49 months ago
Didn’t know about up/down and H/Q functions in app switcher! Even long-time Mac users learn hidden features of MacOS sometimes!
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
GubbyMan Avatar
49 months ago
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.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
star-affinity Avatar
49 months ago
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 >
Keyboard
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. :)
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
TheralSadurns Avatar
49 months ago
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!!!
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
lec0rsaire Avatar
49 months ago
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!
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

Upcoming Products 2022 Feature

Gurman: Apple Preparing 'Widest Array of New Hardware Products in Its History' for Fall

Sunday January 23, 2022 10:32 am PST by
Apple is working on a number of new products that are set to launch this fall, and Bloomberg's Mark Gurman says that it will be "the widest array" of new devices that Apple has introduced in its history. In his latest "Power On" newsletter, Gurman explains that Apple is working on four new flagship iPhones (iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Max, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max), an updated low-end Ma...
macbook pro 14 16 2021

Three Months After Launch, Apple Still Struggling to Meet Demand for Redesigned 14-Inch and 16-Inch MacBook Pro

Monday January 24, 2022 7:12 am PST by
Three months after their launch, the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros continue to experience high demand and seemingly short supply, with shipping dates for both models stretching into multiple weeks in several of Apple's key markets. In the United States, the baseline 14-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 Pro chip is estimated to ship in three to four weeks, promising an arrival by at least...
General Dropbox Feature

macOS 12.3 Will Include Cloud Storage Changes Affecting Dropbox and OneDrive

Tuesday January 25, 2022 3:31 pm PST by
Dropbox today announced that users who update to macOS 12.3 once that software version becomes available may temporarily encounter issues with opening online-only files in some third-party apps on their Mac. In a support document and an email to customers, Dropbox said it is actively working on full support for online-only files on macOS 12.3 and will begin rolling out an updated version of...
Questionable Design Decisions

Apple's Most Questionable Design Decisions in Recent Memory

Sunday January 23, 2022 2:59 am PST by
Apple has always emphasized the depth of thought that goes into the design of its products. In the foreword to Designed by Apple in California, a photo book released by the company in 2016, Jony Ive explains how Apple strives "to define objects that appear effortless" and "so simple, coherent and inevitable that there could be no rational alternative." But every once in a while even Apple...
Apple Watch Red Yellow Green Feature 1

Apple Launches Black Unity Braided Solo Loop With 'Unity Lights' Watch Face

Wednesday January 26, 2022 6:05 am PST by
Apple today announced the Black Unity Braided Solo Loop for the Apple Watch, as well as a new downloadable watch face, to celebrate Black History Month. Following the launch of the limited edition Black Unity Apple Watch Series 6 and Sport Band in 2021, Apple today launched the Black Unity Braided Solo Loop as part of its celebrations for Black History Month this year.Apple is launching a...
att gigabit internet

AT&T Bringing $180/Month 5-Gigabit Internet to 70 Cities

Monday January 24, 2022 9:20 am PST by
AT&T today announced the launch of upgraded AT&T Fiber plans, which support speeds of up to 5 Gigabits for some customers. There are two separate plans, one "2 GIG" plan and one "5 GIG" plan, available to new and existing AT&T Fiber subscribers. According to AT&T, the new plans are available to nearly 5.2 million customers across 70 metro areas including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, San...
intel vs m1 max chip purple

Benchmarks Confirm Intel's Latest Core i9 Chip Outperforms Apple's M1 Max With Several Caveats

Wednesday January 26, 2022 8:56 am PST by
Benchmark results have started to surface for MSI's new GE76 Raider, one of the first laptops to be powered by Intel's new 12th-generation Core i9 processor. Intel previously said that its new high-end Core i9 processor is faster than Apple's M1 Max chip in the 16-inch MacBook Pro and, as noted by Macworld, early Geekbench 5 results do appear to confirm this claim, but there are several...
ios 15

Apple Releases iOS 15.3 and iPadOS 15.3 With Fix for Safari Bug That Leaks Browsing Activity

Wednesday January 26, 2022 10:00 am PST by
Apple today released iOS 15.3 and iPadOS 15.3, the third major updates to the iOS and iPadOS 15 operating systems that were released in September 2021. iOS and iPadOS 15.3 come almost two weeks after the release of iOS and iPadOS 15.2.1, minor bug fix updates. The iOS 15.3 and iPadOS 15.3 updates can be downloaded for free and the software is available on all eligible devices over-the-air in ...