We found 7 of the best hidden features for your Mac

Here are your Apple computer's best-kept secrets and how to use them.

Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
4 min read

The Mac has plenty of hidden features, you just have to find them. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Mac computers are so stuffed to the gills with clever and useful features, you could go years without finding them all. Your Mac has plenty of buried treasures, like a full-on emoji keyboard and a simple process to rename a bunch of files with just a few clicks. Here are seven hidden features from Apple's computer that I can't live without. By the time you finish reading this, I hope you'll feel the same way. 

Read moreBest Windows and Mac laptops and desktops for 2020

All the emoji

Your Mac has its own emoji keyboard, just like the one on your phone. Getting to it, however, isn't as easy as hitting a dedicated button on the keyboard. 


There really is a hidden emoji picker on your Mac. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

It's actually a series of buttons on the keyboard, but once you commit them to memory, you'll be sending emojis from your Mac with ease. 

Whenever you're typing, press control+command+space bar. A second later, the emoji picker will show up, complete with a search bar. 

Yep, there's a dark mode on your Mac

In fact, Apple added a dedicated dark mode to the Mac well before the iPhone and iPad received the same feature. Crazy, right? With Dark Mode turned on, all apps that support the feature will turn from light and bright colors to a nearly black color, making it easier on your eyes to look at the screen at night. 

To use Dark Mode, open System Preferences and click General. At the top of the Settings pane you'll find three options: Light, Dark or Auto. The latter two will change to dark mode, with auto using the time of day to switch between light and dark. 


Dark Mode on your Mac will save your eyes from unnecessary strain. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

An always-changing wallpaper

Instead of staring at the same, boring photo as your desktop background all day long, use one of the Dynamic Desktop images. 

Open System Preferences and click on Desktop & Screen Saver. Make sure the Apple drop-down is selected, and then pick from one of three dynamic desktop pictures. 

The wallpaper will change throughout the day, using your location as a reference for the time of day. For example, the island photo will follow the sunrise, afternoon sun, sunset and then night, slowly changing as you work. It's a fun twist on the otherwise static desktop images. 


Dynamic Wallpapers are an easy way to change things up. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

An easier way to take better screenshots

Taking a screenshot on the Mac can be done using a series of keyboard shortcuts, all of which start with Command-Shift and then a number. For example, CMD+Shift+3 takes a screenshot of your entire screen, and CMD+Shift+4 lets you drag a crosshair across the area you want to capture. We have a handy list of all the commands for you to learn.

But my favorite combo is CMD+Shift+5. Press that on your Mac's keyboard and a small toolbar shows up at the bottom of your screen, giving you complete control over what is and isn't captured. You can even start or stop recording your Mac's screen, as well as choose where the screenshot will be saved. 

Using this combo takes the guesswork out of which keyboard combo you need -- you only have to remember the one. 


This is the best screenshot tool on the Mac.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Fill out and sign documents

Instead of using a third-party app to sign a document, use the Preview app on your Mac. The ability to add a signature has been in Preview as early as 2011, but it's not the most discoverable feature. After the initial setup (which is easy on its own) signing a document in preview takes just a couple of taps. Seriously, I use it all the time. 


Add a signature to a document with just a few clicks. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Open the document you want to sign in Preview, then click on the pen icon next to the search bar at the take of the window. Click on the signature box followed by Create Signature

You can either sign a piece of paper and hold it up to your Mac's camera, use the trackpad to sign, or sign your name on your iPhone's screen. 

After creating your signature, drag it into your document and save your work. Pretty cool, eh? This takes you through the signature process step by step if you need more guidance.

Quickly rename multiple files

Ever have a group of files you need to rename, and hate spending the time to individually name them? Open the folder that has your files, and select all of them. The easiest way to do that is to click on the first file, hold down shift, and click on the last file. 

Right-click on the highlighted files, and select Rename x Files. Fill in the information you want to use, using the drop-down menus to adjust the settings, and then click Rename when you're done. 


Renaming multiple files has never been easier. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Use your iPad as a second display

Last year, Apple introduced Sidecar, a feature that turns your iPad into a wireless second display for your Mac. Prior to Sidecar, you had to buy a third-party app or adapter in order to make it work. 

You'll need to have MacOS Catalina installed on your Mac, and iPadOS 13 or newer installed on your iPad Pro in order to use it. 


This is an iPad, with a Mac desktop on it thanks to Sidecar. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

When you're ready to extend your Mac's screen, click on the AirPlay icon in the menu bar at the top of your screen and select connect to your iPad. Your iPad will then display an extended desktop of your Mac that you can drag apps to, or use it however you would any other display. 

For a complete walkthrough of what you can and can't do, check out our complete Sidecar guide

Trying to figure out how to sync your iPhone with a Mac now that iTunes is dead? We have your back. We also walk you through the new Music app. After you're done mastering your Mac's hidden features, check out these hidden features in iOS 13 and iPadOS 13.

Watch this: How to take Mac screenshots