How to use keyboard shortcuts to make a split screen on macOS, iPadOS, Windows and Chrome OS
January 6, 2022
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Press these keys to display two apps side-by-side on Chrome OS, Windows, iPad OS or macOS. Simplify your life by knowing these shortcuts on your computer or iPad.

Words: Split Screen, centered above two white rectangles, with word

Illustration: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

Lots of tech tasks benefit from side-by-side apps or browser windows. Selecting a system? Take notes in one app with technical specs displayed in another. Writing a sequence of steps? Draft an email in one window while you work through the process. Documenting settings? Refer to the configuration as you type details into a file.

Too often, though, I see people switch back and forth between different tabs or apps, when what they really need is to display two apps at once. If you’re fortunate enough to have multiple devices or monitors, use your additional device or screen to display an app or browser window. When you need to display two apps on one device, often the simplest solution is to place each app side-by-side. And, again, too often people try to do this manually—resizing a window then dragging and placing it to one side of the display.

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The key controls below cover how to rapidly snap apps to one side of the screen with your keyboard on Chrome OS, Windows, iPadOS and macOS. People who often use different operating systems might find this quick visual reference helpful. (To be honest, I switch between devices and sometimes forget these split-screen keyboard commands, so I’m writing this so I can reference it in the future!)

How to make a split screen on Chrome OS

Key combinations on Chrome OS alternate app/browser windows between two positions. On a Chromebook, the alt key combined with either the left or right bracket key lets you quickly reposition a window on the screen (Figure A). Specifically, the key combination:

  • alt + [ moves a window to the left (and, if pressed again, around the center of the screen), while  
  • alt + ] moves a window to the right (and, if pressed again, around the center of the screen).

Figure A

Photo of a Chromebook Pixelbook Go keyboard, with the alt, [ and ] keys circled in red.

On a Chromebook, press alt and [ to dock the active window to the left of the screen. Press the combination again to return it to the middle of the screen. (The combination of alt and ] does the same to the right.)

Photo: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

How to make a split screen on Windows

Keyboards intended for use with Windows systems often have a dedicated Windows key. This key, when pressed with either the left or right arrow key, lets you rapidly reposition an app in any of three positions (Figure B). Both key combinations (Windows key + left arrow and Windows key + right arrow) cycle the position of an app through left/right, center screen, and then left/right, when pressed repeatedly in sequence.

Figure B

Photo of a Surface Laptop Go keyboard, with the Windows key, < and > keys circled in red.

On a Windows system, press the Windows key and left arrow to reposition the active app window to the left side of the screen. Additional presses of these keys will rotate the app through positions on the left, center and right area of the screen. (The combination of the Windows key and right arrow does the same to the right.)

Photo: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

How to make a split screen on macOS

On a macOS system, a third-party app offers the most convenient way to use a key combination to snap an app to a side of the screen. I use the Magnet app ($7.99) on my device. Once installed and configured from the Mac App Store, the key combinations (as shown in Figure C) that move the active app to either side of the screen are:

  • control + option + left arrow, to position an app on the left, and
  • control + option + right arrow, to position an app on the right.

(Note: If you prefer not to purchase a third-party app, Apple does offer a manual way to move apps to a portion of the screen that uses app positioning options, rather than keyboard controls.)

Figure C

Photo of MacBook Air keyboard, with control, option, left arrow and right arrow keys circled in red.

The third-party Magnet app adds window positioning keyboard controls to macOS. Press Control + option +  left arrow to snap an app to the left side of the screen. (Control + option + right arrow does the same to the right.)

Photo: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

How to make a split view on iPadOS

The iPad offers several ways to position apps, including support for key combinations, such as when you use either an attached Smart Keyboard or an external Bluetooth keyboard. When using a keyboard designed for use with an iPad, press either Globe key + control + left arrow or Globe key + control + right arrow (Figure D). This takes the current app you are using and moves it to the selected side of the screen (i.e., left or right, respectively, in what Apple refers to as split view).

With the current app moved to the side, you may then select the additional app you want to use on the other portion of the screen (e.g., right or left). Select the additional app with a tap, either from a Home Screen or the App Library. Once selected the two apps, your original active app as well as the additional app, will be displayed side by side on your iPad. (For additional controls, tap the three dots displayed near the top center of the screen above either app.)

Figure D

Photo of iPad Pro 12.9

Press the globe key + control + left arrow, then select a second app. This places the initial app you had been working with on the left side of an iPad screen, with the second app to the right. (The globe key + control + right arrow works similarly to the right.)

Photo: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

How do you use split screen?

In addition to having two different apps side-by-side, note that you also may open the same app in both windows. For example, when working on a long document, I sometimes open the same Google Doc in two different browser windows side-by-side. This lets me refer to text in one portion of the Doc while I write or edit in another area of the Doc. (The same tactic works well when you need to refer to different tabs within a Google Sheet.)

Do you use keyboard commands to position apps side-by-side on your laptop or desktop? Is this your standard setup, or something you use only rarely? Let me know how you configure your system to display two apps side-by-side, either with a comment below or on Twitter (@awolber).

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