Launch Apps from the Keyboard with Spotlight

by Tom Gaynor | Feb 19, 2017

There are oodles of ways to launch Mac apps. You can double-click an app in the Applications folder, click an app icon in the Dock, invoke Launchpad and click the desired app, or choose an app from the Apple menu’s Recent Items > Applications submenu. You can even add commonly used apps to the toolbar of Finder windows by Command-dragging them up there (cool, right?).

But what if you don’t want to take your hands off the keyboard? Is there any way to open an app without touching the mouse or trackpad? Indeed there is, courtesy of Spotlight. 

You’re probably familiar with Spotlight as a search tool, both for finding files and folders on your Mac, and for ferreting out information on the Internet, including weather forecasts, sports scores, and stock prices. I think of Spotlight as Google for my computer. But what you may not realize is that among the files that Spotlight can find are all the apps on your Mac, and you can launch them with just a few keys. Follow these steps:

1. Press Command-Space to display the Spotlight window. 

2. Begin typing an app’s name, such as “ac” for Activity Monitor. For apps whose names have multiple words, you can type the first letter of each, as in “ic” for Image Capture. And if an app name is a single InterCapped word, it’s fine to enter just the capitalized letters, as in “ft” for FaceTime. Spotlight searches, and while it should be nearly instantaneous, if it doesn’t show the app you want at first, give it a few seconds.

3. If Spotlight highlights the app you want to launch as the top hit, press Return to open it. If it’s not the top hit, you can either continue typing to narrow the search or arrow down to it in the list and then press Return.

That’s all there is to it! As you might guess, you can use the same technique to open documents or even system preferences panes. 

Cleverly, Spotlight is adaptive, so if the first time you type “ac” it suggests Adobe Content Viewer, once you select Activity Monitor instead, it will know that “ac” should open Activity Monitor in the future.