How to Use the macOS App Switcher to Open Files, Hide and Quit Apps, and Launch Exposé

by

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
34 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: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
twistedpixel8 Avatar
34 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
34 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
34 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
34 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
34 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)

Top Stories

apple briefcase

AppleCare Memo Hints at Potential Hardware Announcement Next Tuesday

Thursday December 3, 2020 9:12 am PST by
Following a busy fall season in which Apple hosted three events in as many months, the company may have one more product announcement in store this year. In an internal memo this week, obtained by MacRumors from a reliable source, Apple informed service providers that it has AppleCare-related changes planned for Tuesday, December 8 at approximately 5:30 a.m. Pacific Time. Specifically, Apple ...
apple top apps games 2020

Apple Shares Top 20 Most Downloaded Games and Apps of 2020

Tuesday December 1, 2020 9:38 pm PST by
Alongside picks for the top iPhone, iPad, and Mac apps and games of the year, Apple today shared charts featuring the Top Games of 2020 and the Top Apps of 2020, revealing the most popular free and paid apps and games during the year. Among Us! was the top free game of 2020, followed by Call of Duty: Mobile, Roblox, and Subway Surfers. Ink Inc. Tattoo Drawing was the number four free app,...
homepod mini amazon echo size

$99 Speaker Showdown: HomePod Mini vs. Amazon Echo and Google Nest Audio

Wednesday December 2, 2020 3:12 pm PST by
Apple recently released the HomePod mini, a new $99 version of the original HomePod that's smaller, cuter, and, most importantly, competitively priced. At $99, the HomePod mini can better compete with affordable smart speakers from companies like Google and Amazon. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. The HomePod mini has been praised for its high-quality sound at its...
iphone8guide b

iOS 14.2 Quietly Added FaceTime 1080p Support to iPhone 8 and Later Models

Wednesday December 2, 2020 3:21 am PST by
Back in early November, Apple released iOS 14.2 and announced with it a slew of new features for iPhones, but one thing it didn't mention was the apparent addition of support for 1080p FaceTime calls on iPhone 8 and later devices. The little-known fact was discovered by MacMagazine, which found that Apple quietly updated the specs pages for devices like iPhone XR shortly after the release of ...
16 inch MBP Mini Led

Kuo: Two Redesigned MacBook Pros in 2021 and New MacBook Air in 2022, All With Apple Silicon and Mini-LED Displays

Wednesday December 2, 2020 5:46 am PST by
Apple plans to release two redesigned MacBook Pros in 2021 and a new MacBook Air in 2022, all with mini-LED displays and Apple Silicon chips, according to TFI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. In a research note to investors, seen by MacRumors, Kuo explained that two new MacBook Pro models equipped with an all-new form factor design are expected to launch in 2021, and a new "affordable"...
iOS 14

Apple Releases Third Betas of iOS 14.3 and iPadOS 14.3 to Developers [Update: Public Beta Available]

Wednesday December 2, 2020 10:04 am PST by
Apple today seeded the third betas of upcoming iOS 14.3 and iPadOS 14.3 updates to developers for testing purposes, two weeks after releasing the second betas and a month after the launch of iOS and iPadOS 14.2. iOS and iPadOS 14.3 can be downloaded through the Apple Developer Center or over the air after the proper developer profile has been installed. The iOS 14.3 update brings the...
best apps of 2020

Wakeout! Named Apple's Best App of 2020, While Zoom Earns the Title for Best iPad App

Tuesday December 1, 2020 9:26 pm PST by
Apple today shared its App Store Best of 2020 winners, highlighting its picks for the top iOS, iPadOS, and macOS apps and games released over the course of the year. Apple's iPhone App of the Year award went to Wakeout!, which is a family friendly exercise and movement app that encourages people to complete easy exercises while at home. Apple's iPad App of the Year was Zoom, which soared in...
wristcam design

$299 'Wristcam' Adds a Pair of Cameras to Your Apple Watch

Thursday December 3, 2020 9:32 am PST by
The Apple Watch has never included a camera, likely due to battery life and space concerns. A new Apple Watch product aims to address that lack by introducing a wrist-worn camera that works with the Apple Watch. The Apple-certified Wristcam attaches to the Apple Watch in the form of a band that adds a rather large camera set to the top of the Apple Watch. It's quite thick and bulky, but can...
iphone 12 5g

Multiple iPhone 12 Users Report Sudden Drops in 5G and LTE Cellular Coverage

Thursday December 3, 2020 1:18 am PST by
Since Apple launched the iPhone 12 in October, an increasing number of users of the new smartphone have been reporting persistent drops in cellular coverage. Multiple reports of dropped 5G and LTE connectivity have appeared on Reddit, on Apple's support forums, and on the MacRumors forums, with many people suffering issues when walking or in transit and some seeing the same problem when...
magsafe duo charger

MagSafe Duo Charger for iPhone 12 and Apple Watch Now Available for Purchase

Tuesday December 1, 2020 4:15 pm PST by
Apple today began selling the MagSafe Duo Charger that was announced alongside the new iPhone 12 models back in October. Priced at $129, the MagSafe Duo offers a MagSafe charging puck for the iPhone 12, 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max, and 12 mini, along with an Apple Watch charger. Though the accessory was announced in October and was listed as coming soon, it was not clear when it would launch. Orders...