How Split View Lets Two Apps Work Together in Full-Screen Mode

Work with two full-screen apps side by side using one display in split view

Split View in OS X El Capitan

Split View was introduced in the Mac operating system with OS X El Capitan, as part of Apple’s push to bring a bit of parity between iOS features and OS X. Apple first provided for full-screen apps with OS X Lion, although it was a feature that was underused. The purpose was to allow apps to provide a more immersive experience, letting the user concentrate on the task at hand without distractions from other apps or the OS.

Split View takes this to the next step by allowing two full-screen apps to be displayed at a single time. Now, this may seem counterproductive to the idea of working in a single app to avoid distractions, but in reality, we rarely use just a single app to accomplish a task. For instance, you may be primarily working in your favorite photo editor, but need a web browser to track down details on how to perform a complicated bit of image editing. Split View lets you have both apps open and operating in full-screen mode, even though they're really sharing a single display.

What Is Split View?

The Split View feature in OS X El Capitan and later allows you to run two apps that support running in full screen, and instead place them side-by-side on your display. Each app thinks it's running in full screen, but you're able to work in both apps without having to leave either app's full-screen mode.

How to Enter Split View

We're going to use Safari and Photos to show you how to work with Split View.

First up, working with a single app in Split View.

  1. Launch Safari and navigate to one of your favorite web sites.
  2. Click and hold on the Safari window's green button, located in the top left corner.
  3. You'll notice that the Safari app shrinks in size just a little bit, and the display on the left-hand or right-hand side turns slightly blue in color. Don’t let go of the green button just yet. Whichever side of the display the application window, in this case, Safari is taking up the most space in, is the side that will turn the blue shade. If this is the side you want Safari to occupy in the Split View, then simply release the cursor from the green window button.
  4. If you would rather have the app window occupy the other side of the display, keep holding the cursor on the green button, and drag the Safari window towards the other side of the display. You don’t need to move it all the way to the other side; as soon as you see the side you wish to use change to the blue color, you can release your hold on the window's green button.
  5. Safari will expand to full-screen mode, but only occupy the side of the display you selected.
  6. The unused side of the display becomes a mini Exposé window, showing all open applications as thumbnails. If you don’t have any applications besides Safari open, you'll see a text message in the unused side that says No Available Windows.
  7. When there's only a single app open in Split View, clicking anywhere within the app will cause the program to expand to full screen and take over both sides of the display.
  8. Go ahead and quit Safari by moving your cursor to the top of the display. After a moment, the Safari menu will appear. Select Quit from the menu.

Planning Ahead to Use Split View

As you may have noticed in our first adventure in using a single app in split-screen, there is no Dock and no visible menu bar. Because of how Split View works, you must have at least two applications running that you wish to use in Split View before you enter Split View mode.

In our second focus on Split View, we'll start by launching two applications that we want to use in Split View; in this case, Safari and Photos.

  1. Launch Safari.
  2. Launch Photos.
  3. Use the instructions above to open Safari in Split View.
  4. This time, the unused Split View pane is populated with a thumbnail of the Photos app. If you had additional apps open before entering Split View, all of the open apps would appear in the unused Split View pane as thumbnails.
  5. To open a second app into Split View, simply click once on the thumbnail of the app you wish to use.
  6. The selected app will open in Split View.

Working With Two Apps in Split View

OS X automatically arranges your Split View into two equal-sized panes. But you don’t have to live with the default division; you can resize the panes to meet your needs.

Between the panes is a slender black shoulder that divides the two panes of Split View. To resize the panes, place your cursor on the black shoulder; your cursor will change to a double-headed arrow. Click and drag the cursor to change the size of the Split View panes.

You can only change the width of the Split View panes, allowing one pane to be wider than the other.

Exiting Split View

Remember, Split View is really just an app running in full-screen mode; well, actually two apps, but the same method of controlling a full-screen app applies for Split View.

To exit, simply move your cursor to the top of either of the Split View apps. After a moment, the selected app's menu bar will appear. You can then close the app by using the red close window button in the upper left corner, or by selecting Quit from the app's menu.

The remaining app that was in Split View mode will revert to full-screen mode. Once again, to quit the remaining app, simply select Quit from the app's menu. You can also use the escape key (Esc) to revert the full-screen app to a normal windowed app.

Split Screen has some appeal, although it will probably take some time to get used to it. Try the feature out; it sounds a bit more complicated than it really is.