AMITIAE - Sunday 3 November 2013

System Preferences in OS X 10.9, Mavericks: Keyboard

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers

Although some of the System Preferences have remain unchanged with the update to OS X 10.9, Mavericks, others have had a major redesign. The Keyboard preferences panel has been changed to include a number of features that were previously in Language & Text panel, itself now renamed to Language & Region.

The Keyboard preference panel is now in four sections: Keyboard, Text, Shortcuts and Input Sources. There are several changes.



The top of the Keyboard panel displays two sliding scales: "Key Repeat" and "Delay Until Repeat". The first shows a scale from Slow - Fast, with Off at the left. This adjusts the length of time between a character being repeated as a key is held down.

Since the 10.8 update, key repeating has not been available on my MacBook Pro for characters or numbers. Punctuation and other marks do repeat: for example 2 does not, while @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@ does. This is the same for Thai characters. On the same 2 key, when Thai is active, the / key repeats, while the Thai character for 1 does not. Other keys (punctuation, character/numeric) are likewise affected. The delete key does repeat.

The Delay Until Repeat slider adjusts the time before the first repeat begins. The delay may be adjusted between short and long.

On notebook computers, which have a limited-width keyboard, below the sliders is a check-box to turn on or off the use of F keys as standard function keys. When active the Fn key must be pressed to use the function key for its additional purpose. This then allows the F-key to have a second use (some may already be allocated), which can be allocated in the Keyboard Shortcuts section.

An example might be the F12 key which is marked with the speaker symbol and increases sound volume. When the checkbox is used, pressing the F12 key reveals Dashboard. When the Fn key is pressed with F12, the volume is increased. If the box in the Keyboard panel is not checked, F12 adjusts volume; used with Fn it opens Dashboard.

Care should be taken when selecting this. Users should make sure they are aware of what pressing a Function key will do.

A check box below this has the wording -- Adjust keyboard brightness in low light. A slider bar below the checkbox selects how long this lighting feature operates when the computer is not being used. The slider runs from 5 secs to over 5 mins, and Never. When the feature is active, the F5 and F6 keys cannot be used to adjust keyboard brightness.

There is a final checkbox (below the slider): Show Keyboard & Character Viewers in menu bar. This uses the same menubar item as for selecting different language keyboards (see Input Sources, below).

  • The Character viewer (which is first in the menu) allows access to hundreds of symbols, pictographs currency characters and (now) Emoji icons too.

  • The Keyboard Viewer displays an adjustable-size keyboard on-screen. As keys are pressed on the real keyboard, the display changes to show which are being used. This also shows additional functions, such as with the Option key (e.g. Option + K types a degree symbol, while Option + Shift + K types an apple).


The Input Sources button, which in Mountain Lion opened the relevant section in the Language & Text preferences is no longer needed as this is now included in the Keyboard Preferences (see below).

At the bottom of the panel, in the center, is a button marked, Set Up Bluetooth Keyboard. When pressed, a panel appears. If Bluetooth is off, a button offers the option to turn it on. The system searches for a Bluetooth keyboard and initiates pairing if one is found.


A Modifier Keys button at the bottom left allows a user to re-allocate the uses of certain keys: Caps Lock, Control, Option, Command and "No action". For example, the Caps lock key can be changed to operate as the Option key. The panel also has a Restore Defaults button.

Great care should be exercised if such changes are considered.


The panel marked Text helps users when typing. This was previously found in the Language & Text preferences panel (Now see Language & Region). The main section some shortcut methods but seems to be much simplified compared with before.

The panel to the left contains shortcuts for typing. Previously, for example, the copyright symbol was included in a text when the user typed (c). There are no such symbols included in my installation and the checkbox for activating the feature is no longer available.


Using the + button below the panel allows user-defined shortcuts to be added. I use a number of such shortcuts when writing: for inserting images and for entering page links.

With shortcuts I can avoid much tedious and repetitive typing, while avoiding mistakes. Such a feature from Apple is all very well, but in a perfect world users do not work all day long in Apple-developed applications. None of these shortcuts will work in some of the 3rd party software I use: these commands will only work with applications written in Objective C. I use the utility yType from Plum Amazing to do this. It does work in all the writing applications I use.

To the right of the panel are other controls for typing: again simplified from the previous version. At the top is a checkbox for spelling to be corrected while typing. Spelling corrections may be made automatically by language - selected by a button below - or by selecting a specific language from those in the list. At the bottom there is a Set Up option. This opens a panel which gives access to a number of other languages. Text here - as before - tells us we may add more by copying dictionary files (.aff and .dic) to the Spelling folder in the Library folder.

The button that had allowed word break options has been removed.

Like line-breaks, different languages have their own ways to use quotations. A checkbox activates the two buttons available to select the user's preference: with double ("") and single ('') speech marks.


This section was in the Keyboard Preferences previously where it was called Keyboard Shortcuts. Now the shorter title is used.

Longtime Mac users are aware that using the keyboard is much faster than using a mouse or trackpad. I have written on this a number of times for example in a three-part article: (1) Outline and Applications; (2) Startup keys and Some Suggestions for Their Use; and (3) More Startup keys and Suggestions for Use.

The panel for Shortcuts is in two parts: on the left, the area or group that is being controlled. On the right, the commands themselves.


There are now nine groups (or types) shown: Launchpad & Dock; Mission Control; Keyboard (renamed); Input Sources (new) Screen Shots; Services; Spotlight; Accessibility; and App shortcuts (renamed).

When one of these sections is highlighted, the panel on the right lists all commands for that specific area. Some have fewer than others. For example, Launchpad & Dock has only two listed like the new Input Sources; Screen Shots has only four. Services has many more. It is only possible to add commands to the App Shortcuts section (also see Services, below).

Each key command has a checkbox to its left (active/inactive) and any assigned key command. If the checkbox to the left is not checked, the key combination is greyed out.

To change a shortcut, we may double-click over the key command shown (when it is active). This reveals a small box in which the new key combination can be typed. If there is a conflict (the combination is already being used), yellow warning triangles appear: beside the command, under the panel, beside the current section and beside the section which is using the keys.


By default in OS X, Command + Space opens a Spotlight search. For many years I have used this combination to switch keyboards. I prefer to keep it that way. To use the keyboard switcher keys, I entered the combination (now in Input Sources) and deactivated the Spotlight command. This now has its own specific section and a different key command (F5 or Fn F5).

The Services menu has a large list of commands that may be used, particularly for some of the installed 3rd party applications. Any Services are listed in an application's menu (some way below the Preferences item). They are only displayed when a specific task may be available. In Safari, for example, opening the menu item shows, No Services Apply. However, if a section of text is highlighted (or a URL) some services are listed.

When viewed in the Keyboard Shortcuts panel, most Services commands do not have a key combination allocated. By highlighting the command, a small button marked "add shortcut" appears. Clicking on that opens a text box in which a key combination can be entered. This will be useful for those who have a specific task that is repeated often.

However, when I entered a key command which I knew would conflict, the yellow triangles did not appear. I was able to do this more than once in the Services section.

The same applies as above: Great care should be exercised if such changes are considered.

We may also add commands using the + icon that appears below the panel when Application Shortcuts is selected. For example in iTunes there is a menu item (in the Window menu), "Zoom", which had no keys allocated. Pressing + in the Shortcuts panel reveals a dialogue box. We may select All Applications or specify: the list shows all installed applications, and Other.

I selected iTunes and typed in the menu title (the words for the command) as it appears in a menu then allocate a key combination. I specified Command Shift and = for this. The key command now appear in the iTunes, Window menu. New menu commands cannot be added this way. A new Services item -- perhaps created with AppleScript or in Automator -- might get round this.

Controls at the bottom of the panel refer to the focus of the keyboard within applications. This is unchanged from before Mountain Lion. By pressing the Tab key a different part of a panel or window is highlighted. With "Text boxes and lists only" the focus is only where we may enter text (such as Search boxes or address fields in Safari). "With All controls" the focus cycles round text windows and other controls like buttons, sliders (and bookmark entries in Safari). Text beneath reads, "Press Control + F7 to change this setting."

Input Sources

An OS X installation on a Mac allows a number of keyboard options. They may be selected in this panel. In past versions of OS X this was in the Language & Text Preferences panel (See Language & Region). Not only has it been moved, but has had a complete redesign.


To the left of the panel is a list of keyboards chosen. In the panel to the right is a panel that displays the keyboard of a highlighted language. This is large enough so that most users would be able to identify the keys (as confirmation), but there seems to be much wasted space here below the keyboard image. Pressing keys or double-clicking does nothing to the keyboard.

The default selection is the localised language or US English for computers in many areas. When only the default is selected there is no icon in the menu bar. We may add this by using the checkbox at the bottom of this panel. The current keyboard language may be changed using this. We may also use a keyboard shortcut. A new checkbox here is marked, "Automatically switch to a document's input source." Below is the comment, "The input source is used until the document is closed."


The panel used has been redesigned in a way that makes selection of a specific keyboard easier. To the left there are 76 language types and "Others". At the top of the list are languages already selected.

Highlighting one of the languages reveals in a panel (right, top) any keyboards that are available for the language. For example, Inuktitut has Inuktitut - Nunavut, Inuktitut - Nutaaq, Inuktitut - QWERTY and Inuktitut - Nunavik. Selecting one of these options, shows a representation of the specified keyboard in a panel (right, lower).

There is a search box at the bottom of the panel to speed things up. A keyboard already selected and in use is greyed out in the input source panel. Currently, "Others" only displays a keyboard marked Unicode Hex Input.

An input source is included to the list of those in use by pressing the Add button.

See Also:

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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