A Complete Guide to Lion’s Full Screen Apps

When Apple announced the features of their latest Operating System, OS X 10.7 Lion, they explained that they had learned a lot from their mobile operating system and were brining some of its best features to the desktop. One of the features coming to the desktop that Apple is excited about is the ability for Full Screen apps in Lion.

On the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch each and every application takes up the entire viewing area. One of the benefits is that you’re able to quickly focus on the particular app you’re working with. Its less distracting than having multiple windows in your view and allows you to accomplish focused work quickly.

Apple hopes this type of user experience translates to the Mac. Full screen apps on the Mac is different from the traditional windows approach that many have been accustomed to in all previous versions of OS X, Windows, and most Linux graphical user interfaces.

I believe this new approach will take time for users to get use to and Apple was smart enough to make the experience opt-in. Each application that offers support for Full Screen mode includes a small icon in the top right corner of the application. Click it to start the app you’re working with in Full Screen view.

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Apps With Full Screen Mode

Not every app in OSX Lion supports full screen mode at this time but the ability for developers to add the features is built into Lions SDK, making it an easy addition to Mac applications.

Below are a few apps that support fill screen mode in Lion:

  • Safari
  • Pages
  • iMovie
  • iPhoto
  • Google Chrome
  • Photo Booth
  • Mail

Keyboard Shortcuts To Switch Between Apps

Full screen apps are designed to work great with touch input devices like Apple’s Magic Trackpad or Magic Mouse but you can also benefit from keyboard shortcuts.

Every time an app is placed in full screen mode the operating system creates a Space for it that is very similar to the Spaces your familiar with for OS X. The difference with full screen mode app Spaces is that they only allow a user to add one app to the Space. Once you have apps in full screen mode you can access them by starting Mission Control or by clicking F3.

One Mission Control has been started with F3 you’ll see at the top where your Spaces are usually located your Apps in Full Screen Mode.


Additional keyboard shortcuts are available to allow you to quickly move through the full screen apps you have open. To jump between Safari and Pages when both are in full screen mode simply click control+left arrow or control+right arrow to slide through your open full screen apps.

This particular shortcut is very beneficial if your app freezes or fails when in full screen mode. Simply click control+left or right arrow to move to your desktop space and close the application from the Dock.

More Than Just Taking Up the Entire Screen

App developers need to understand that creating Apps in full screen mode need to do more than just take up the entire screen. Applications that do that offer few benefits from working in window and do not take full advantage of all the space available to them.

Apps that take advantage of the extra space are more likely to be used in full screen mode by the average user. One such app is Photo Booth. The app adds visual elements to the screen when in Photo Booth that, while gimmicky, adds to the feel of being in an actual photo booth and to the overall user experience of the simple app.

App developers should be creative in thinking about the ways that they use the extra space. Adding special capabilities or benefits in full screen mode will add social appeal, increased usability, and increase the likelihood that users return to using the app in that mode in the future.

Missing Full Screen Apps?

There are also a few apps that I’m surprised to not yet have full screen modes. These apps include:

  • iTunes
  • FaceTime

iTunes is one of Apple’s most important applications as is it the hub for connecting Apple mobile devices to a Mac. The iTunes Store, Music Albums, and Movies all should benefit from a full screen mode.

FaceTime seems to be an essential piece to Apple’s long term plan for communication and is built into everyone of its devices. This app being full screen makes sense and it not yet having that feature must be an oversight by apple.

Looking Forward to The Future

I am excited about the direction Apple is taking and their concept of full screen apps on the desktop. I hope developers will take advantage of the extra retail space and make their apps more effective and enjoyable to use.

What are some of the apps you use most in full screen mode? Which apps are you hoping receive full screen mode support quickly?