Three ways to launch Mac apps using just the keyboard

If the mouse or trackpad fails or you simply prefer to use the keyboard, you need the appropriate shortcuts to open apps. In this guide you will find three ways to start Mac apps using just the keyboard. The first takes you directly to the launchpad, where you can navigate to or search for the right app. The second lets you select the apps and the launchpad in the macOS dock. And the third is intended to specifically open a single app with just a few entries.

Open Launchpad using a keyboard shortcut and select the app

The Mac keyboard doesn't offer an F key that takes you directly to the Launchpad, but it does fn key. The input option, also known as the globe or globe key, is located on small Magic Keyboards and on MacBooks at the bottom left of the keyboard. On large Magic Keyboards with a number pad, the globe or fn key is located above the arrow keys (directly below the F13 key).

However, this key alone does not take you to the Launchpad. To get there, you also press the Shift and A keys. So the key combination is: fn+Shift+A. As far as I know, it is the only fn key combination that contains the Shift key. You can also remember the A because you have an overview of everything with the launchpad Apps calls – A for apps.

With fn+Shift+A you can open the launchpad on the Apple Mac using a key combination. On smaller Apple keyboards, the fn key is located at the bottom left.
With fn+Shift+A you can open the launchpad on the Apple Mac using a key combination. On smaller Apple keyboards, the fn key is located at the bottom left.

If you have opened the launchpad with the shortcut mentioned, you can navigate using the arrow keys. You can then browse through the various Launchpad pages using command+arrow keys. So you scroll to the right command+right arrow. Go back to the left command+left arrow. If you are looking for a specific app, you can simply type in its name. This is how you write in the search field at the top to search for specific programs.

Open the Dock using a keyboard shortcut and select apps

I showed you how to use the dock using just the keyboard over a year ago: Without mouse and trackpad – Use the dock with the keyboard. However, I have now learned that in addition to the complicated key combination fn+control+F3, there is also a much simpler one: fn+A.

So if you simply omit Shift from the Launchpad shortcut, you'll get to the dock. There you can now navigate in different ways and start apps. Here are a few examples of keyboard operation of the dock under macOS on the Apple Mac:

  • Use the arrow keys to steer left and right and start the selected app with Enter or the space bar
  • Use the arrow keys to navigate to an app icon and use the up arrow key to open the app icon’s context menu
  • Navigate to the Launchpad icon and press the up arrow key to use the list of all apps (launch the selected app with Enter or Spacebar)

Use Spotlight to open an app specifically

The third way you can open a program on the Mac using just the keyboard takes you to a more familiar keyboard shortcut: command+spacebar. Because with the command and spacebar you open the Spotlight search field. Enter the desired app name into this, briefly check whether the app is your favorite search result or whether you have to use the down arrow key to navigate to the correct search result, and then press Enter. This is basically the fastest way if you know the app name and don't have to search for the program from an overview.

Topically relevant guide: Without a mouse and trackpad - Use the Mac menu and menu bar with the keyboard.

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In the Sir Apfelot Blog you will find advice, instructions and reviews on Apple products such as the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, iMac, Mac Pro, Mac Mini and Mac Studio.