10 tiny features I love about OS X El Capitan

OS X El Capitan is here, and we're super-excited about it. I've been using the OS X beta for a few months now, and I love how solid El Capitan feels. But moreover, I love all the little bits hidden away in it. So without further ado, let me introduce you to my favorite hidden features from this year's OS X release.

1. Photos for OS X gripes begone

This makes the very top of my OS X El Capitan list: improvements to the Photos app. Not only has El Capitan brought in third-party in-app editing extensions (yes!) but it's also offering sort-by-date for albums (yippee!) and batch editing (wahoo!). Lack of editing extensions was one of my biggest Photos 1.0 gripes, and I'm so excited to edit with tools other than OS X's defaults. A "Open in" menu would still be nice, but hey: Beggars can't be choosers.

2. Find your cursor

If you have a large monitor or constantly find yourself losing your cursor, this OS X El Capitan feature may save your life: When you jiggle your cursor up and down to find it, it auto-magnifies, to help you quickly find where it might be hiding on your screen. (It's also ridiculously fun to do while procrastinating.)

3. Record, list, and save webpages in Notes

My next three picks are Notes app features. I'm not sorry, because Apple's improvements to Notes in OS X El Capitan are awesome. First off, Notes isn't limited to plain text and the occasional attachment anymore: It can ingest and pin sketches from your iOS devices as well as audio notes, webpages, photos, videos, documents, and map locations—all interactive.

Adding photos, links, and more to Notes is all well and good, but what if you want to find a specific image? The new Notes app in OS X El Capitan makes this easy by taking a page from the Messages app: It now has an Attachments browser, modeled after Messages's Details menu. I realize that apps like Evernote have been doing this for years, but it's great to see Apple incorporating more advanced features at the OS level.

And copy and paste is so 2014: In OS X El Capitan, you can automatically add information, links, and more to Notes and Reminders—all by using the Share button to send your content to your other apps.

4. You can resize (and move!) Spotlight

MacBook Air

MacBook Air (Image credit: iMore)

Though it's a wonderful app, this was the nail in my third-party launcher's coffin: Not only is Spotlight getting natural language improvements and additional search options, but it can now be resized and moved around your screen. So nice. I use Spotlight constantly for calculator conversions because of it.

5. There's a Find my Friends widget

Want to find your friends outside of the Messages app? There's a Notification Center widget for that. Just click the Edit button, then add Find My Friends from the Items screen. Clicking on someone's profile will provide you with a map tile which you can then zoom in on.

6. AirPlay video files from Safari—in full screen

Who needs Chromecast? In OS X El Capitan, Safari can use AirPlay to send full-screen video from any website to your Apple TV. Mirroring your Safari windows to watch wftda.tv roller derby playoffs? A thing of the past.

7. Mute auto-playing video

Apple has tackled the worst part of the internet in OS X El Capitan: auto-playing videos. Ugh. I hate these things, and Apple does too, and now you can mute anything that makes noise from the Safari URL bar, as well as quickly select the offending tab and dispense of it.

8. Drag and drop windows to new desktops

In OS X Yosemite, you could drag a window from space to space by bumping it up against the edge of your screen, but were out of luck if you didn't have an additional space to drag to. Not with the new version of OS X: El Capitan will not only let you create a new space from your window by dragging to a corner—regardless of how many spaces you have—but also combine windows together into Split View mode, drag spaces around, and more. It's probably my most-used feature on my 11-inch MacBook Air.

9. Add suggested events and contacts

If someone emails you a dinner invitation or a meeting time suggestion, Mail in El Capitan can automatically suggest an event be created based on that info. It's smart enough to figure out if the sender of the email is someone in your Contacts database, and lets you add them with one click. If their email address changes, Mail will try to keep you up to date as well.

10. Tabs in Mail

Tabs have long been commonplace in Safari and last year Apple brought tabs to Finder windows in OS X Yosemite. If you have a bunch of emails open at once and you need to copy and paste between them or want to compare information, now you'll have a much easier time thanks to Tabs in Mail.

Your picks?

Even with this list, I've just scratched the surface of new OS X El Capitan features. There's lots of other exciting things: the new San Francisco system font; time to leave integrated into your appointments and notifications; renaming files from the context menu; strikethrough in Mail; and a new Disk Utility app. What's on your list?

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

45 Comments
  • I agree ... Photos changes at the top of my list too.
  • Pinnable tabs in Safari. Single reason why I already upgraded to El Capitan.
  • Something that has been available in Chrome for ages, finally Apple incorporates.
  • Yes it has. Although I rarely use that feature. Posted via the iMore App on my iPad Air or iPod Touch 5
  • I have been using that feature constantly in Chrome and Firefox, that's why I missed it so much in Safari.
  • Ditto. I pin my most often used tabs that I use constantly... Google Drive, Gmail, Facebook Calendar, etc. Just now it is coming to Safari (finally)!
  • I too am happy about the ability to pin tabs. And they stay pinned even after closing and reopening the window. Sent from the iMore App
  • I prefer "show favorites bar" option to pinable tabs even is chrome
  • The new window management has been a long time coming. My single gripe with OSx and iOS has been solved.
  • #10 is already in Yosemite, and I think it was in Mavericks, maybe even Mountain Lion.
    It doesn't work exactly how you described it working in El Capitan
    :
    1) Initiate mission control. (squeeze your Mighty Mouse; swipe up with 3 or 4 fingers on your trackpad; press the Mission Control button on your keyboard)
    2) (left mouse button click-hold &) drag a window to the top right corner.
    3) release left mouse button.
    4) (optional) click on new space to view. Sent from the iMore App
  • 13. Siri.
    ...
    ......
    ...?... No?
    Maybe next year...
    ... No? ;'-( Sent from the iMore App
  • Not quite Siri but you can turn on custom dictation commands, and now with El Cap you can "enable dictation with a keyword command" which gives you a basic "Hey Siri" on your computer, I use it for launching and quitting apps, searching spotlight, it can even navigate safari windows for you.
  • Photo extensions will be great. Only other thing I want from photos is for the smart albums to appear on iOS devices. Sent from the iMore App
  • Photos for sure goes to the top of the list. But you left out adding locations to photos. That's something that was super missing with the first release.
  • I didn't think it was coming but did some digging and just found this statement from Apple. " In Photos, you can add locations to a single image or an entire Moment, and sort albums by date or title. " I guess it doesn't mean it will make it through to final release though. https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2015/06/08Apple-Announces-OS-X-El-Capitan...
  • Metal. The OpenGL implementation on OS X was consistently two versions behind,super slow, and always lacking some needed call of some sort. For professional graphics apps and games, metal is a god send for its low overhead and direct to the GPU coding ability. It should Really narrow the gap between the Mac and other platforms.
  • I'm just curious, what does rethinking faces mean? I use that feature a lot.
  • Tabs … in Mail? How did I miss that?
  • I really wish OS X and iOS would sync the deletion of all text messages on all devices just as they do with emails. Getting tiresome to delete the things more than once etc.
  • Hi there, you mentioned 'but it's also rethinking Faces', I may have missed that piece with the photos app, what exactly are they changing in the way they handle faces within the app ?
  • Snapping (split screen) apps from Windows 7 is also a good addition. Minor improvements that count.
  • It's nothing like the kinda halfass snap that's in Windows 7, and far more like the superior implementation that was in Windows 8 and Windows 10's Tablet Mode. 7's "Aero Snap" was nothing more than a quick way to use the "Tile Windows Side By Side" command on the Taskbar. The windows wouldn't resize in sync, nor could they be easily re-arranged. I just hope that Apple adds support for more than two apps in a future release! :D
  • My top picks would be the Notes app revamp, followed closely by the split view and the Mission Control improvements (as shown in demo).
    I never quite got the hang of 3rd party notes apps like Evernote, but found Notes too simple and bare bones, especially for simple things like checklists.
    As I'm a heavy multitasker and user of pdfs and word docs side-by-side, any improvement to window management will greatly speed up my workflow. Gone are the days of fiddling with pesky window sizes!!
    Though, I hope this OS X edition will also bring stability (to the force)... Sent from the iMore App
  • Is Notification Center in El Capitan improved? I really hate it as is. I literally have notifications in there from over a month ago. It's basically another inbox to triage, only it's hidden out of sight.
  • Agree about Notification Center. They also need to make it so that Notifications common to both OS X and iOS are cleared on all devices when cleared on one. To add to that, having to delete Text Messages in two places is a royal pain in the behind, especially since OS X doesn't let you delete them quickly. It takes like 2 clicks or button presses for each conversation. I hate that. The Shake your Mouse to Find it thing has been in Windows for like a decade now. Maybe closer to two decades ("Show location of pointer when I press the CTRL key" in Pointer Options). That's a decent Accessibility change and I'm glad they finally added it. I think shaking the mouse for it is dumb, though. They should have just let you press a key, like Windows does. I think the Photos upgrade was totally underwhelming, but it does tell me that it's time to buy an External Hard Drive and Lightroom, so I'll go ahead and do that. Very disappointed Siri isn't coming to the desktop. Last year Yosemite and it's Continuity/Handoff features made it the highlight of releases. Seems like this is Windows 10's year. July 29th can't come fast enough. I pretty much don't care when these updates hit my Apple device at this point. Notes app is very meh to me. In a world where OneNote is completely free. They'd have needed to perform a miracle to make me care about the Note app. I only use it for jotting down temp passwords/burner accounts and the likes. I could never use it as my note taking service because Organization in it is way too poor and I need something that integrates better with Desktop PIM software. I can still do 100% of what Notes does in OneNote, and 500% of what Notes doesn't do in OneNote.
  • The Shake your mouse to find thing might have been in Windows, but it isn't a default. They are introducing it in a suite of ease of use features for users. I think all operating systems have those little things that we take for granted.
  • 1. Metal and the huge bump in performance that is going to mean to all the older Macs
  • The better notes app is very welcome. Better features AND more reliable syncing. Sent from the iMore App
  • been playing with el cap on my Macbook mid-2010. Bought it off a friend a couple of years ago and knew that the only mirror play capabilties was restricted to only audio and no video. Now with el cap and testing it, i can send Safari video to my Apple TV so again, the question is why cant my old device mirror the whole desktop screen when its now capable of sending video to the Apple TV?
  • I'm in love with the new spinning beach ball cursor. It looks so stunning. Lol. I'm gonna install el capitan just for that.
  • Slips view screen mode and the cursor call out will be the biggest upgrades for me.
  • Safari. It was simply unusable in yosemite.
  • I still use iPhoto. I just don't like the new Photos app. Is iPhoto staying in El Cap (like in Yosemite), or is Apple finally removing it? By the way, is it possible to use the Photos app without having all your photos uploaded to iCloud? I don't really care for stuff like that. I like keeping my photos local and private. (I don't want hackers getting access to my photos and deleting them). Plus I only use the free 5GB of iCloud storage, and I wouldn't want to have to upgrade just for photos.
  • Yup! Just turn off iCloud Photo Library.
  • completely agree. I deleted the photos app from Yosemite and deleted it from El Capitan too. Mainly because hidden photos are not hidden.
  • Best new feature? Hiding the menu bar.
  • AirPlay video files from Safari—in full screen. This doesn't work with flash video though, right?
  • Super excited about extensions for Photos, lots of possibilities there. Question is, do those extensions have to come from the Mac App Store? MacPhun already has some extensions, Snapheal got upgraded already! Looking at the extensions panel in System preferences has raised some more questions... What the heck are "Actions" extensions? Where would I get more extensions for notification center? Brave new world...
  • Oh, and what happened to the new two factor authentication that was supposed to come with iOS 9 and El Capitan? Was looking forward to that but I don't see any mention of it anywhere.
  • While I love the new features in Notes I long for the day when text edit features will be added so that I can write and preview code in Notes. Everything else that has been added while nice have been taken care of by 3rd party apps like my fave Notebooks Sent from the iMore App
  • The Good
    - tabs in email
    - hidden menu bar
    - side by side apps resized
    The Bad
    - Notifications are still kind of annoying. Forgot they were there as I turned them off from the terminal in Yosemite. Did same here. (does anyone use find my friends?)
    - photos.app still broken (or maybe a feature?) in terms of "hidden photos". deleted the app in yosemite, deleted the app in el capitan
    - "new" things in safari are old hat in chrome, may check them out, but sticking w chrome
  • Content blockers for OS X Safari!
  • Hey Serenity, No. 6 on this list doesn't really work on "any website." Please try to play a video on ESPN, or other sites with Flash plugins. There is no Airplay option. It also does not work on Facebook, CNN, USATODAY, and more. It works on YouTube, but many other sites still do not have the option. I'm sure the developers need to make changes to their sites, but why can't every single video of any kind, in OS X or iOS, have an Airplay option? Google figures out how to cast a video by casting the tab. Surely Safari can do something similar.
  • Hi all. I currently have an aging Macbook Air (mid 2009) and was planning to buy the latest Macbook Pro this year. After installing El Capitan, my machine is about 50% faster! It's like literally having a new laptop (except for the battery life which is understandable given the hardware limitations). I totally agree this was indeed a Snow Leopard update.
  • Mission Control, App Exposé and desktop switching. All configurable thru mouse buttons. I know many do not use mouse but I have a multi button one and was able to configure the click wheel to show mission control. Button 4 shows dashboard overlay for quick weather, time and whatever else you put there and so on. It is much faster to do that and switch between apps than any other Swype or keyboard shortcut.
    Click. Mission control. Enter app. Click mission control. Enter another app. Click mission control. Change desktops. Awesome. Sent from the iMore App