eXtensions - Friday 30 October 2018


Cassandra - The Option Key on the Mac and Keyboard Options on iOS: Part 1, Macs

By Graham K. Rogers


While Mac users are familiar with menu systems, many users have also learned how to use more-efficient keystrokes. Some of these keystrokes are also available for those using iOS devices, but only when an external keyboard is connected.

Apart from searches in libraries, the first time I was able to use a PC as a productivity tool was at Illinois State University in 1985, when the undergraduate writing program introduced these in the classroom: revolutionary at the time. Those of us teaching not only had to learn the rudiments of MS DOS 2.7, but also the ins and outs of Wordstar: the application students would use when they were writing.

The menu system needed a user to learn commands, or at least be aware of how to find them. Pressing a couple of keys would reveal helper menus from which most could be found. It was slow going initially but once a few keystrokes were learned, things improved.

The Macintosh

I did try a Macintosh around this time as I shared an office with Ray Lewis White who was a prolific author. Being familiar with the PC at the time, I found the power of the Mac with its GUI and mouse were somewhat overwhelming initially. The mouse was controversial initially, with one pundit claiming that "There is no evidence that people want to use these things". There were several criticisms of the first Macs, but Dvorak seemed to base his career on bad-mouthing Apple.

Within a few years, when Microsoft's own GUI went public with Windows 3.0, the mouse was a critical accessory, yet power users on Macs understood that efficient operations depended on the faster use of keystrokes. With some applications (Final Cut, Adobe Photoshop, Aperture), this mode of operating became so essential that special color-coded keyboards were (and are still) manufactured.

keyboard display
Keyboard Viewer

As well as the software, the Mac itself, and its keyboard, depend on the use of additional keystrokes to reveal characters and actions hard-wired into the OS, but not immediately obvious.

keyboard display
Keyboard Viewer - Option keys in Use

If the menubar icon for languages is displayed, there is easy access to the Keyboard Views. If not the Input Sources panel of Keyboard Preferences also displays a live version of the current keyboard, albeit small. By pressing the Option Key, the keys will change to show what characters are available for typing.

System Preferences Keyboard
Keyboard View in System Preferences: Keyboard - Input Sources

The option key has a number of tricks available. For example when using menubar icons. Several of these, for example the WiFi icon, will display more information when accessed using the Option key. Some of this information could be useful for trouble-shooting and setting up a new system. Other menubar icons that may show a different display include Sound (depending on speaker systems installed), Time Machine (an On/Off browse setting here), Bluetooth, and Battery. I did not find differences with Date & Time, Search, Account Switcher or Siri on my MacBook Pro.

Applications also have settings that are affected by the use of the Option key. A simple example is the rotate image icon in Photos. Normally the selected picture will rotate clockwise, indicated by the arrow on the icon. If the Option key is pressed, the arrow on the icon will change and an image would be rotated ant-clockwise. Also in Photos, certain commands in File, Image and Window menus have additional features with the use of the Option key.

Other applications will also take advantage of the Option key to add functions. An example is Numbers, Apple's spreadsheet application. When the cursor is placed in a cell and an arrow key pressed, the cursor moves to the next cell (if available) in the direction of the arrow. Pressing the Option key with a direction arrow creates a new cell in that direction.

Pages and Keynote also have additional features including a useful Save As rather than Duplicate. Safari, Mail, App Store, Notes, Calendar and several more also show additional features when the Option key is pressed. Third party applications may also have such functions. Familiarity with an application, or a specific function will help the user learn these and become more efficient.

I have written on such keystrokes a number of times in the past. These are somewhat older sources, but are still relevant.

Also note "Advanced text handling tips in OS X" by Topher Kessler

iOS Devices

The iPad was initially advertised as a device for display of content, but it soon became clear that it was able to produce content effectively as well. With the iPad Pro, there was more focus on this production aspect. Since the first iPad, Pages, Numbers, Keynote have been developed for the tablet and integrate with the desktop version via iCloud. In a similar way to those who use Microsoft Office applications, the location of data is immaterial and users can work on a file with the nearest device.

Apple Wireless Keyboard
Apple Wireless Keyboard

While a specific keyboard was developed for the iPad Pro, those with standard iPads (and the iPhone) have three choices: the graphic keyboard, an Apple Wireless Keyboard, or a Third-party solution, such as produced by Logitech. There are many others and I have both the Apple Wireless keyboard and an Orée Bluetooth keyboard in Walnut.

My comments on the use of keyboards and their uses on iOS devices are in a related text.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. 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. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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