To Tab or not to Tab, that is the question

In the most recent 0.7.2 update, I started a process of usability enhancements in the run up to 1.0 to try and make the Alfred experience more predictable and consistent for new users. It’s only during this process that you realise how very few options there are for fast ‘single tap’ hotkeys to perform certain tasks.

Tab Auto Complete

One of the very hardest changes I made was to the Tab behaviour – something which absolutely had to be done as Tab is synonymous with auto completion. Before I start, I will explain how Tab auto complete works in the Alfred file system navigation view and how efficient it makes finding a file you want.

If I have a photo called ‘kittens15.jpg’ in a folder called ‘Aww Kitties’ on my Desktop, I would use the following process to navigate to the file after bringing up Alfred:

~           takes me to my home folder
de [enter]  results filtered to 'Desktop', enter the folder
aw [enter]  results filtered to 'Aww Kitties', enter the folder
k  [tab]    auto complete to 'kittens'
15 [tab]    auto complete to 'kittens15.jpg'

Clearly having Tab as Auto Complete freakin’ rocks… so what now?

Brain Dump Alert!

Warning: The following is a bit of a brain dump of some of the thoughts I had for changing the Tab behaviour.

1. Tab needs to be Auto Complete, nothing else

As you can action files in both the default Alfred default view and the file system view, the tab behaviour has to be consistent between these views. This rules out having Tab to perform an action completely.

2. The action key needs to be easy to find without looking

By making the action key ctrl or fn it will always be the bottom left key on the keyboard. This is very easy to find with your left pinky without taking your eyes away from the screen.

3. If you like scrolling, group all the action key with the arrows

By allowing the right arrow key to action, this means that you can find the file you want to action, then for example press right, down (to select open with), right, down (to select the application), then Enter to finalise the action. As an added bonus, on Apple laptops, this also makes the action key the bottom right key of the keyboard.

So there we have it

The Tab behaviour now rocks, and the action key is easy to find without having to look for it. But wait, there is one more thing… If you liked using Tab just because of the location on the keyboard, you have another option!

Remapping Caps Lock

Remap Caps LockIf you don’t use Caps Lock (I’m guessing you probably don’t), in the OS X Keyboard preferences, you can select ‘modifier keys’ and remap Caps Lock to Ctrl which then works as the action key! Some have mentioned that this is the most comfortable key to find on the keyboard so everyone’s a winner! :D

Andrew (@preppeller)

12 thoughts on “To Tab or not to Tab, that is the question

  1. I encourage everyone to try the remapping of CAPS LOCK, I’ve used it as another CTRL key for a long time now and it’s great. Never (almost) miss the original CAPS LOCK key.

  2. I use CTRL-h to delete backward character instead of delete key, as well as use CTRL-n/p instead of down/up arrow keys. But, sometimes Alfred mistakenly recognize their as action key. So, for example, even when I want to delete characters, Alfred shows action selection mode.

    For this reason, I’d like to choose action key among CTRL, Tab, fn or something. Or I’d like you to improve key recognition algorithm.


    • I will be adding a preferences page for a certain amount of configuration (such as turning off ctrl in your case), but will also try and prevent Alfred from registering false positives.

  3. Thanks for this change! I love the new tab autocomplete. One thing I would also love which would be quite handy i believe is to allow one to press the “/” button when in default alfred search finding a folder/file to turn it into file system navigation i.e. i bring up alfred, type downloads then press “/” and it brings me into navigation mode navigating Downloads folder. This saves me having to press 2 keystrokes and it’s quite intuitive, just like terminal prompts. Just a suggestion :)

  4. Dig the tab action. My only request thus far with AlfredApp: Please please please add Query chaining. Being able to call up multiple items, separated by a comma and then apply the same action to all of them (such as Launch).

    app, app, app + action = choice. :)

    Probably the 1 Quicksilver feature I miss the most.

  5. Tab auto complete is really cool! Just like working with Terminal. And I have an idea, does it possible to invoke result action just by press “space”? :D

  6. I still wish there was a quicker way to start navigating the structure of a folder. If I type in the name of a folder and bring it up I want to have a way to immediately start navigating it either with a right-arrow or ctrl+right arrow. It’s cumbersome to bring up the folder, right-arrow to the actions menu, then hit “browse” before I can start navigating that folder. Just a suggestion for the future.. Thanks for your responsiveness and awesome work.

    • If you use cmd+down (same hotkey as in Finder) this will take you straight into the navigation for that folder :)

      • Awesome! Thanks! :) Don’t know how I missed that when trying to search through the keyboard shortcut cheat sheet, but there it is!

  7. Wouldn’t fuzzy search be more efficient in this example (and in most cases)?

    ~ (takes me to my home folder)
    de [enter] (results filtered to ‘Desktop’, enter the folder)
    aw [enter] (results filtered to ‘Aww Kitties’, enter the folder)
    k15 [enter] (opens ‘kittens15.jpg’)

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