10 Mac Apps, Tricks and Features to Impress your Friends

This post is part of a series that revisits some of our readers’ favorite articles from the past that still contain awesome and relevant information that you might find useful. This post was originally published on March 1st, 2011.

So you’ve just bought a new Mac, perhaps even switching from Windows. As you’d expect, your friends come over to marvel at your new computing behemoth. So what do you show them? The way Safari expertly renders CSS drop-shadows, or how easy it is to make a sumptuous scatter graph in Numbers?

Of course not. You want to show them the fun, pointless stuff which will make them recoil in awe.

This post compiles 10 of the best apps, easter eggs and tweaks which serve little purpose but to inspire and amaze you and others. You won’t use these apps every day, but there’s no harm in knowing about them as a fun party trick…

Delicious Library

Delicious Library Barcode Scanner

Delicious Library Barcode Scanner

This is probably the only useful application on the list, but also one which will impress you an awful lot. Delicious Library is an app for cataloging your possessions, from books and software to clothes and toys. This may not sound like the most exciting app, but it has a little feature which brings it to another level.

Using your iSight camera on your Mac, you can scan books, games, music, etc. simply by holding it up to the camera. It will detect the bar code and search Amazon and other databases for the product, providing you with cover art, a description, production details, reviews and recommendations, all in the app.

It won’t find everything you put in front of it, but it does a pretty good job nonetheless.

Developer: Delicious Monster
Price: $30

FluidTunes

FluidTunes

FluidTunes

Remember the EyeToy, that Kinect precursor that plugged into your PlayStation 2 and allowed you to navigate the PS2 interface ridiculously slowly? Well, imagine an app that allowed you to do the same thing to control iTunes. That’s FluidTunes. Once again, this works via your iSight, and enabling you to browse your media library via waving your hands wildly in the air and hoping for the best.

Unfortunately, you can only select a song through a CoverFlow view, and stop it. No pausing, no skipping, no volume adjustment, nothing. In addition to this, your music is bunched in with podcasts, audiobooks, and even iBooks, so your Beatles mix might suddenly be interrupted by Ricky Gervais at any time. As an app, it’s pretty terrible, but as a novelty piece, it works pretty well.

Developer: MagicJungle
Price: Free

MegaMan Effect

MegaMan Effect

MegaMan Effect

Isn’t it great how quickly apps open in OS X? Well, what if they didn’t? Wouldn’t that be amazing? MegaMan Effect plays a fullscreen introduction to your app in the style of 80s classic NES game Mega Man, complete with retro 8-bit music.

This is fun the first time you use it, but gets old pretty quickly, especially if you forget it’s on and try to open an app in a hurry.

Developer: Clickable Bliss
Price: Free

PhotoBooth

PhotoBooth

PhotoBooth

No “useless but fun” app list is complete with PhotoBooth, everybody’s favourite timewaster. If you don’t know what PhotoBooth is, it allows you to take pictures with your iSight camera (yes, that again), and add plenty of “fun” features and effects along the way. These range from the relatively sensible “Black and White” and “Sepia” to the utterly pointless “Thermal Camera” and “Twirl”.

PhotoBooth is one of the few on the lists that you can return to and be vaguely amused by, so don’t delete it just yet.

Developer: Apple
Price: Free (Comes with OS X)

GarageBand Auto-Tune Feature

GarageBand Auto-Tune

GarageBand Auto-Tune

Auto-tuning is a system where the pitch in vocal and instrumental performances are corrected. You hear Auto-Tuned vocals every 5 minutes on the radio these days, but the full software, developed by Antares, costs $649.

Never fear, as GarageBand has some very basic Auto-Tuning features built-in. It won’t make you the next Lady Gaga (not that you’d want to be) but it’s certainly a noticeable change, and quite fun to play around with.

iTunes Visualisers

iTunes Visualiser

iTunes Visualiser

I’m guessing that everyone will know about these, but it’s still a great feature of iTunes. Hit Cmd + T to bring up the visualiser in iTunes, and sit in awe whilst you listen to your favourite songs.

Probably the most pleasing visualiser is the default “iTunes visualiser”, but  there are plenty of other great ones around the web, such as these.

Invert Colours

Invert Colours

Invert Colours

Strictly speaking, this is a feature for accessibility, but is equally useful (and I use the term “useful” very loosely) for anyone. All you have to do is press Cmd + Alt + Ctrl + 8, and all the colours on the screen are inverted.

You can see a black and gold Facebook, a black Finder, and a grey and orange Mac.AppStorm. In fact, iTunes visualisers, mentioned above, look great in negative too. To get out of it, simply press Cmd + Alt + Ctrl + 8 again.

Freeze Window Minimisation

Free Window Minimisation

Free Window Minimisation

In theory, this is basically crashing your Mac in a very minor, fun way which is easily fixed. It does, however, require a bit of a tutorial…

  1. Firstly, open Terminal, and type in “killall Dock” (without the quotes), but don’t enter it yet.
  2. Go to another app, and hold Shift whilst hitting the minimise button. This will, as you may well know, cause it to minimise in slow motion.
  3. Whilst this is happening, switch back to Terminal and enter that “killall Dock” command. This will freeze your window halfway through minimisation, with all of the features still working fine.

There are a number of apps that this works well on – My favourite being an app with a long list of things you can scroll through, such as Twitter for Mac or NetNewsWire. You get a great, 3D scrolling effect.

To return to normal, press minimise again and bring the window up again.

ASCII Star Wars

ASCII Star Wars

ASCII Star Wars

Everyone loves ASCII art, right? And everyone loves Star Wars too, right? Well, imagine, if you will, an ASCII version of Star Wars Episode IV, right in Terminal. Guess what – It’s real, and can be accessed by typing “telnet towel.blinkenlights.nl” into Terminal (without quotes).

You’ll need an internet connection, however, but that’s not exactly a huge ask these days. Then just sit back and enjoy some Sci-Fi entertainment.

Games in Terminal

Tetris in Terminal

Tetris in Terminal

I would imagine that almost everyone reading this has played Snake, the classic arcade game, at least once. Now, you can play it again – this time in Terminal.

To do so, type “emacs” (as always, without quotes) into Terminal. Then, hold Esc and press X.

You are now free to type any game you wish to play into Terminal. You can try “Angry Birds” or “Call of Duty”, but you probably won’t be successful. Try “Snake” or “Tetris” instead, as they certainly work.

Conclusion

So there you have it, ten apps, tricks and features which make your friends sit back and applaud your new computer. Or at the very least, they’ll smile.

Some, you may want to use again and again (Delicious Library, PhotoBooth, Terminal games), and some you may never want to see again (FluidTunes, MegaMan Effect).

Hopefully this post will provide you with a bit of enjoyment, and then you can get back to your all-important alphabetically ordered histogram in Numbers.


  • Silouane

    Thanks for tetris, I didn’t know !!

  • angrybits

    How does “ASCII Start Wars” have anything to do with Macs? That server shows ASCII Star Wars no matter what platform you use to telnet in.

  • DittoBox

    The coolest thing here is ASCII Star Wars, something I can get anywhere. Install a Telnet client on Windows and you can do it too.

  • Nick

    Have you ever tried holding down Ctrl, Opt, cmd and 8 at the same time. Another one of those why is it there quirks of OSX

    • http://senigmation.tumblr.com/ SuperEnigmation

      What exactly does Cmd+ Ctrl + Option + 8 do?

  • http://www.looneydoodle.com Arun

    The invert color is fun when used as a prank. Most stores selling apple products have employees who have no idea about it! We once inverted colors on all the macs in a BestBuy and made them believe it was some sort of a virus. The funny part was that the colors stay inverted even after a restart! I dont know what they did, we sure as hell didnt tell them what we did :D

    On a more productive note, its great to reduce the brightness during a meeting with the speaker showing us slides.

    Arun (@looneydoodle)

  • http://www.appsqueen.com AppsQueen

    I love the invert colors trick – will do it on my friends computer when he is away to see his reaction.
    Thanks!

  • Ignignokt

    Best “wow” feature that is equal parts spectacular and useful that I show off is floating dictionary definitions by holding Cmd-Control-D over text in any Cocoa app. This won’t work in any Carbon-based application (for example: Chrome), but almost all others work with this.

    Leaning more to fun, and building from #8, slow-mo animations always impress. Shift-to-slow is best used in conjunction with opening Stacks from the Dock, opening Dashboard, Spaces, and using the various functions of Exposé (F9, F10, F11). Use Exposé while in Spaces for extra wow.

    Another little known fact about Exposé: Cmd-1 will sort by windows by name, Cmd-2 will sort by application. Pressing Tab will show windows from individual apps in the Dock (also achieved by pressing and holding an Icon in the Dock in Snow Leopard). You can’t slow these animations down, but they’re at least useful.

    Exposé is a lot more feature rich than you might think.

    • http://inspirationoverload.org/ Conor O’Driscoll

      Great tips, thanks! Hadn’t heard of the Cmd-1 and Cmd-2 in Exposé before.

      The Dictionary feature is a great one. If it would just work in Firefox, it’d be perfect.

    • http://darcycarmela.tumblr.com Darcy D’Amato

      I tried Cmd-Control-D and that’s such a cool feature! Thanks for point that out. (:

    • Quine

      Just a quick note – dictionary works fine in Chrome, and I’m pretty sure Chrome for mac is cocoa. Unfortunately FF didn’t work.

      • bakir

        if you use the trackpad, then for the “cmd-control-d” shortcut just tap three fingers twice hovering any word

  • http://www.ibirdy.com/ iBirdy

    Great article, I liked the possibilities of terminal for which I had no idea.

  • http://www.bestappspoint.com Apps Hub

    Invert color is no doubt a great fun. Most of the stores selling apple products have such employees who do not know anything about this feature! This is really funny for users but in short a great feature to have fun.

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