Apple’s gear is gorgeously designed, but that shouldn’t stop you from personalizing your Mac, iPhone, and iPad with beautiful tweaks that make it all yours.
Sleek aluminum. Beautiful black bevels. We’ll be the first to admire the loveliness that emerges from one of those ingeniously crafted boxes sold by Apple. And we’ll also be the first to argue that, once you settle in with your new device, a little personalization is in order. After all, you don’t want your gear to look like every other Mac or iDevice out there. We live with these things the way we live with the paintings, photos, and other doodads that adorn our homes, so why shouldn’t we give our gear the same level of customization?
That’s why we’re showing you how to finesse everything from basics like wallpapers to more advanced tweaks like Finder windows and third-party apps that let you really monkey with the user experience that underlies OS X. Because iPhones and iPads are harder to tinker with (unless you jailbreak them), the lion’s share of this story focuses on Macs, but we haven’t forgotten iDevices, and this story concludes with a look at the coolest tweaks you can make to your mobile Apple gear.
Personalize Mac OS X
When you set out to make over your Mac, start with the foundation: wallpaper, icons, screen savers, and alert sounds.
While Apple includes some lovely wallpapers with OS X, swapping in a fresh Desktop background is the easiest and one of the most effective ways to reinvigorate the look of your Mac. Start by rummaging through your own photo library for something that grabs you. To avoid blurriness, you should use images at least as large as your screen’s maximum resolution (found by navigating to System Preferences > Displays and clicking the Display button — your Mac’s default resolution is the highest available).
Sure, Apple provides plenty of slick background pictures. But yours are better.
Fortunately, shots in your iPhoto library probably exceed that magic number. To turn them into Desktop backgrounds, go to System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver. Click the Desktop button, then scroll to the contents of your iPhoto library (here you can also access the Photos folder or add others by clicking the “+” button). Click an image file inside your Events, Faces and Places, or any albums or folders you’ve created to show it off on your Desktop. Backgrounds can appear full-screen, tiled, or resized to fit your display’s dimensions — handy for fitting widescreen backgrounds to full-screen monitors and vice versa. You can even set a collection of images to display in sequence to make a slideshow on your Desktop.
It’s a safe bet Google has the images you’re looking for.
If personal snapshots aren’t your thing, many websites offer professionally designed background images of any subject you can imagine. Want a trippy, nature-themed look? Desktopography has the goods. For edgier fare (of the occasionally NSFW variety), check out the wallpaper collection atDeviant Art. A wide range of cool, cartoony backgrounds for all ages can be found at The Icon Factory. But if you’re still not satisfied, an old-fashioned Google search can help. Enter your subject of interest (Game of Thrones, say), then click Images in the resulting page’s sidebar. In the Size section of the next page, choose an image size matching your Mac’s resolution to narrow your choices to pictures that will look sharp when you use them as your Mac’s wallpaper.
Changing the Finder’s default icons can make specific items on your Desktop easier to recognize in a sea of blue and gray — or at least take the drab out of your drag-and-drop. It’s also easy. For instance, changing your Macintosh HD icon from a hard drive to a folder is just a matter of copy and paste.
Changing up your icons is as easy as copy and paste.
In the Finder, select the folder, file, or volume with the icon you want to use, then select File > Get Info from the menu bar. Click the icon at the top of the resulting window to select it, then choose Edit > Copy. Next, apply Get Info to the item with the icon you want to change. Select that item’s icon in the new Get Info window, then choose Edit > Paste. Boom! You just replaced its icon.
Stick with the same old icons? Highly illogical!
But thanks to hundreds of awesomely talented designers, you can go way beyond just switching OS X’s default icons. Want to turn your hard drive into a Batmobile — or your folders into martini glasses? Of course you do. The Icon Factory makes a great first stop on your icon safari, and its CandyBar utility ($29, panic.com/candybar/) can help automate the icon-switching process.InterfaceLIFT offers a dizzying array of realistically rendered gear, including many old and new Apple devices. For a more whimsical look, check out the offerings at PixelGirl, which generally fall into the categories of cool, cute, or kinda creepy. Meanwhile, the designs at IconDrawer are all business, mostly intended as re-imaginings of Apple’s default designs. Many of their icons cost money, but some holiday and other themed collections are available for free.
A site like The Icon Factory is like an IKEA for your icons.
Icon sets from these sites may or may not come with instructions explaining how to use them, but the basic idea for each is the same. Downloaded sets contain folders of image files, and you select one you like, apply Get Info to it, then copy and paste its icon over one already on your Mac. Like we said, easy. And if you’re inspired to create your own icons, you can find our tutorials at bit.ly/ml_icons and bit.ly/eseMUy.
Modding your Mac’s alert sounds is trickier than tweaking your Desktop’s appearance, but it can be done. For best results, use AIFF files — formats like MP3 or WAV may not sound as expected or might just not work at all. To convert a sound from another format, add the file to your iTunes library, then go to iTunes > Preferences > General and change the Import Settings to AIFF Encoder. Select the sound and choose Advanced > Create AIFF Version. To install the new version (or any AIFF file), copy it to Library > Sounds in your Home folder. In System Preferences > Sound, click Sound Effects to choose the new alert. Custom alerts will also be available to applications that handle alerts through their Preferences menu item, like Mail or iChat.
Installing custom alerts isn’t pretty, but the results can sound awesome.
To find new alert sounds, hit FindSounds, which lets you search by file type or resolution and sample rate (bigger is better in both cases). Simply the Best offers AIFF files organized in categories like Animals, Mechanical, and People (yes, a mighty burp is available). But long-time Mac fans should grab the Mac OS Classic Sound Pack, which brings back the alerts of yesteryear. We’ve missed you, Wild Eep!
The kids are into these new alert sounds, but you can’t beat the classics.
Admit it — your cat pictures are too cute to keep hidden.
Screen savers may no longer be necessary to prevent burn-in on your display, but they can still add flair to your Mac — especially if you roll your own. Go to System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver, then click the Screen Saver button. Scroll through the sidebar to your iPhoto library, then select a collection of pictures. They can be displayed in one of three styles: a full-screen view, a 3D view that shows pictures as virtual snapshots, and a mosaic view. Each has different options that affect how pictures appear, and in what order. Preview your screen saver by clicking the Test button.
Tiny zombies beat flying toasters any day.
Click the “+” button below the sidebar to select other image sources, including a MobileMe gallery, an RSS feed, or a folder on your Mac. Choosing Browse Screen Savers used to take you to the Downloads page on apple.com just for icons and screen savers, but it’s gone now. The internet still holds lots of options, though, whether you’re interested in animated holiday or nature scenes, rampaging 3D zombies, or a good-old Matrix homage, you — and your Desktop — can stay covered.
Fact: Matrix screen savers make Sad Keanu smile.