Single Application Mode: My favorite hidden feature of OS X

Single Application Mode for Mac OS X

If you’re anything like me when you’re at your computer, you’re easily distracted by pretty much anything. Create as many Desktops or Spaces as you want, a rogue bouncing icon will kill that nice flow that you’re in.

Enter my favorite hidden feature of OS X: Single Application Mode.

Enabling Single Application Mode causes all of the other apps that are running, to hide from your screen when you click the icon of the app you want to isolate. Everything disappears (but doesn’t quit) but your desired application. In the case of the photo above, it’s iA Writer. 

Single Application Mode is phenomenal for minimizing distractions and it can be easily ignored by launching other applications via Spotlight, Alfred, Quicksilver or by bringing something else up that’s currently running with Command + Tab. 

In 1999, when Steve Jobs was demoing OS X, everything ran in single application mode, just like your iPhone or iPad does now. Switching apps would cause others to hide, minimizing clutter and distractions.

Obviously things have changed on OS X since then but this feature is still hidden in there and can be enabled by copying and pasting the following code into your Terminal.

First: defaults write single-app -bool true

Then: killall Dock 

If you ever want to disable Single Application Mode, just change the “true” in the first line of code to false, do killall Dock again and you’ll be back in multi-application mode. 


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(I originally found out about Single Application Mode over on

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