How to use Split View on a Mac

Stop dragging windows on your Mac. Here's how to use Split View to multitask

Macbook Air (2018) Review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Split screen modes divide your computer screen into two different halves so you can view two different windows at the same time. This is immensely useful for research projects and more complex work assignments (especially on laptops), which is why so many students and professionals hunt down ways to split their screen whenever they get a new Mac.

Now for the good news: In newer versions of MacOS, there’s a very easy split screen mode called Split View that anyone with an updated Mac can use. In this guide, we’ll teach you how to use Split View on a Mac to make the most of your system.

While connecting multiple external monitors is always a possibility for larger projects, here’s how to divide your screen on smaller level, any time you need.

Get started with Split View

Split View Green Button

Step 1: Begin by opening two or more Mac windows that you want to divide into a split screen. Browser windows, apps, documents — whatever you want. Pick one window to start with and look in the upper left corner. You should see three colored dots: red, yellow and green. They can be used to control the window.

Step 2: If you hover over the right-side green dot, you’ll see it has two small expand arrows. This is the button you want. Hold down on the green dot and you’ll get some options: Enter Full Screen, Tile Window to Left of Screen and Tile Window to Right of Screen. Select either the second or third option and the window will fill that portion of your display.

Green Button Close Up

Step 3: One half of your Split View is done. You’ll see the first app on one half of the screen, with thumbnails of any other open windows on the other side. Now select the other window that you want to use in Split View mode. This window will resize to cover the other side of your screen, completing the Split View experience. You can tap either window to switch focus back and forth as needed.

Adjusting Split View

Your split view doesn’t have to be a half-and-half deal. Instead, you can choose which window gets more screen time. Look for the black bar in the middle of the screen. Click and hold that bar and you can move it right or left to give either window more real estate. This is particularly useful if you’re trying to view a large web page with odd design or need extra space for a big spreadsheet. Just note that some apps (like Apple’s Photos, for example) have minimum widths, so you may not be able to adjust the bar much (or even at all). how to use split view on a mac macos catalina

If you realize you prefer the windows on different sides, then click and hold one app’s title bar and drag it over to the opposite side. The windows will automatically switch places.

Not sure where your menus have gone? Split View automatically hides the menu bar, but you just need to move your pointer to the top of the screen and it’ll reappear while your pointer remains there, giving you access to each app’s menus while you’re using Split View.

Finally, if the windows are too small for you, you can adjust your resolution to help improve matters. When you’re ready to leave Split View mode, just click on the green dot on either window, or press Esc. This will return both windows to their original state and allow you to resume what you were doing before you started using Split View.

Split View options

If you hold Option (labelled as Alt on some Mac keyboards) and click the green button in a window’s top-left corner, you get three new options: Zoom, Move Window to Left Side of Screen and Move Window to Right Side of Screen. Whereas Enter Full Screen hides the Dock and menu bar, Zoom keeps these in place. The difference between tiling a window and moving it is similar — tiling hides the Dock and menu bar, while moving does not. Moving also doesn’t enter Split View — there’s no moveable black bar when you just move a window to either side of the screen, and you don’t need to pair a second app.

Window snapping

MacOS Catalina window snapping

Mac users have had to wait many long years, but MacOS has native window snapping in MacOS Catalina, just like in Windows 10. Click and drag a window to one of the four sides or four corners of your display and a translucent box will appear behind it. This indicates the shape the window will occupy; release the mouse button and it’ll automatically snap to this position.

MacOS Catalina gives you a total of ten different options:

  • Drag a window into a corner and it’ll take up 25% of your screen.
  • Drag it to the top portion of either the left or right side of the screen and it’ll fill the top half of the display; do the same for the bottom portion of the left or right side and it’ll fill the bottom half of your screen.
  • Drag the window to the left or right of the screen without going near the corner of your display and it’ll fill the left or right half.
  • Drag it to the bottom of the screen to make it fill the middle third.
  • Drag it to the top of the screen to zoom it. Note that if you then drag a little further up you’ll enter Mission Control, so you have to be careful with this.

Given there are so many choices, it may take a bit of practice to find the various sweet spots. But adding this functionality to MacOS is a definite boost for Mac users, who have been deprived of this useful function for far too long.

Note that window snapping is not the same as Split View — apps won’t enter full screen when you drag them into place, and there’s no black bar to adjust their size.

A quick word about Mission Control

MacOS Catalina Mission Control

Do you have a lot of windows open at once and want something more comprehensive than Split View to look at them all? Mission Control can help. This mode shows you all the windows you have open in a quick, at-a-distance view that lets you quickly change the focus to one. Mission Control also lets you create multiple virtual desktops (called “spaces” by Apple) that you can switch between, each with their own apps and windows open; these are shown in the bar at the top.

You can access Mission Control in many ways, but one of the easiest is to simply drag a window up to the very top of your screen, which should automatically enter Mission Control mode. Alternatively, Apple keyboards typically come with an F3 Mission Control button, or if you have a trackpad you can swipe upwards with either three or four fingers (depending on your trackpad settings). You can enter Mission Control while in Split View if you want, which is an easy way of switching windows as necessary.

Mission Control can also help you switch to Split View when you have two fullscreen apps open. Just activate Mission Control and then drag your app window on top of another window or app icon. This should immediately activate Split View.

Cinch, a third-party alternative

Cinch

If you’re really not on board with Apple’s implementation of Split View, that’s okay! There are alternatives for creating a split screen: One of our favorites is the Cinch. It creates hot zones on the four corners of your Mac screen and two hot zones on the right and left sides. You simply drag a window into one of these zones, and it snaps into place. If you drag it into a corner, it will automatically snap to one-quarter size of your screen. If you drag the window to the side of your Mac, it will snap to half the screen.

Some users may find this easier and more intuitive or more useful for viewing multiple windows at once. If you are interested, Cinch does a pretty good job of staying current with the latest MacOS, and there’s a free trial version you can use to experiment with the app — the full version is only $7 if you decide you want it. Download it from the official site, or straight from the App Store.

Some features won’t work on MacOS Mojave

Still using MacOS Mojave? Split View is mostly the same as on MacOS Catalina, but there are a couple of notable differences. For one thing, you won’t be able to use the window snapping features that are built in with MacOS Catalina; instead, using an app like Cinch or Magnet can achieve similar results.

The second thing to note is that you won’t get the Zoom, Move Window to Left Side of Screen and Move Window to Right Side of Screen tools if you hold Option and click the green button in the top-left corner of a window. This is a new feature in Catalina and was not present in Mojave.

If you’re thinking of upgrading to Catalina but haven’t made the leap yet, fear not — we’ve got all the info you need to install MacOS Catalina and get up and running with Apple’s latest operating system.

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