Create a split screen Mac shortcut for your favorite apps

Use two apps side by side in split screen view on your Apple Mac by using the Shortcuts app to make it easy as a single mouse click. Use your favorite apps side by side to make work easier.

Sometimes you need to focus on a single app when working on your computer, but often we need to work with two, like a word processor for writing and a web browser for research on the web. On a small screen like a MacBook, windows may overlap, which makes using two apps a little awkward. The solution is to tile them so they do not overlap.

App windows on the desktop are movable and resizeable, so the obvious thing to do is to drag one app to the top left corner of the screen, then click and drag the edges to resize it to half the screen. The other app you are using can be dragged to the top right and then resized to fill the right half of the screen. It works, but is there a better way?

Tile windows on the Mac desktop

Manually tiling windows by moving and resizing them is a slow and tedious process and there is a better way of organizing app windows so they fill two halves of the screen. It is built into macOS.

  1. Let the mouse hover over the green button in the top left corner of an app window
  2. When the menu appears, select Tile window to left of screen
  3. Other apps on the desktop appear as thumbnails. Click one to add it to the right half of the screen
  4. Both windows are now tiled 50/50

This is OK, but it is a special mode and not simply the result of moving and sizing of windows. To see this, go to the Dock at the bottom of the screen and switch to a third app. It does not appear on top of the split screen apps, but on a separate screen.

Split screen mode has its uses, but there is yet another way to work with two apps side by side on the desktop. Use split-screen apps with Shortcuts. Create a menu bar shortcut that puts your two favorite apps side by side.

1 Create a new shortcut

The Shortcuts app on the Apple Mac
Add a shortcut

Open the Shortcuts app in the Applications folder on the Mac. Click the plus button in the toolbar to create a new shortcut.

2 Shortcut name and settings

Create a shortcut in the Shortcuts app on the Apple Mac
Shortcut settings

When the new shortcut window appears, click in the title bar and enter a name for it. Two apps will be split on the screen with one in the left half and one in the right half. Name the shortcut after the two apps so you know what it will do. I am going to tile BBEdit and Pages, so I have called mine BBEdit + Pages 50/50. Name yours after the apps you will use.

Click the Settings button in the top right corner to show the shortcut settings panel and tick the option to pin it to the menu bar. All pinned shortcuts are available in the menu bar whether or not the Shortcuts app is running. It will always be available.

3 Window shortcut functions

Searching for commands in the Shortcuts app on the Apple Mac
Search shortcuts for window functions

Click the first of the two buttons in the top right corner to show Shortcuts commands. Type ‘window’ into the search box and Split-Screen Apps is among the results. Click the i button to open an information panel. It says it will open specified apps in split-screen mode, which is just what we want.

Double click Split-Screen Apps to add it to the shortcut.

4 Choose the apps

Configuring a Shortcuts command on the Apple Mac
Select two apps for split-screen

Click the two App links in the split-screen command and select the two apps you want to use. Either select them from the list of apps that appears or type the name into the search box and then click it in the results. The first app opens on the left and the second one will be on the right.

5 Access shortcuts in the menu bar

Shortcuts in the menu bar on the Apple Mac
Access shortcuts in the menu bar

In step 2, we selected the option to show the shortcut in the menu bar. The Shortcuts app can be closed and is not needed because our new split-screen shortcut is available in the menu bar. Click it to tile the two apps you selected.

6 Tiled split-screen apps

Split-screen apps on the Apple Mac desktop
Two split-screen apps on the Mac desktop

If the split-screen shortcut is run and the apps are open, their windows will be tiled exactly 50/50 on the desktop. I chose BBEdit and Pages, but this can be done with almost any two apps.

If neither of the apps are open, they are simply loaded. Run the shortcut again to tile them. You can only tile open apps.

7 Split 1/3 and 2/3

Configure a Shortcuts command on the Apple Mac
Choose a split ratio

A 50/50 split between the two apps is not the only option and they can be split one third and two thirds. Return to the shortcut you created and click Show More (which becomes Show Less). Click the Ratio and select the one third + two thirds option. The first app is made one third of the screen and the second app is two thirds. Run it and see.

Instead of setting a fixed split ratio, it is possible to ask each time the shortcut is run. Click the Ratio and select Ask Each Time.

8 Customize the message

Customize a function in the Mac Shortcuts app
Customize the shortcut

Now Ratio says Ask Each Time. Click it and enter your own text for the prompt. It is not essential to enter a prompt and it is merely cosmetic to make the shortcut look good.

9 Asking for the split ratio

The split-screen shortcut on the Apple Mac
Asking for the split ratio

Here is what appears when the split-screen shortcut is run. It now asks which split ratio to use. Select it, click Done and the windows are moved and resized to the ratio selected. I find it a bit of an irritation being asked for the ratio every time. A better option is to create two shortcuts, one for half and half, and another for one third and two thirds.

Now go back to the start and create a split screen shortcut for a different pair of apps. If you use three or even four apps at a time, you can create three or four shortcuts to tile app 1 with app 2, app 1 with app 3, and app 2 with 3. You can then switch between app pairs by selecting them on the Shortcuts menu bar menu.

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