Contexts reconsidered & Charmstone discovered

In the past, I had a chance to try out Contexts, but I wasn’t impressed at that time.
But recently I realized how powerful it is while I was comparing it with AltTab and Witch.

Let me first summarize what I felt about the three.



  1. free
  2. being actively developed.
  3. mostly fast and responsive.
  4. customizability (especially how I can assign shortcuts and how I change the layout)


  1. Sometimes it is very unstable; I don’t know if it is only me, but I found that it crashes too much especially after making shortcut changes.
  2. I mentioned it is mostly responsive. But sometimes, there is a delay before it pops up, which can be so annoying when you are quickly switching between apps.

I think AltTab is a nice app, and I had enjoyed using it so far until I rediscovered the power of Contexts.



  1. It has a sort of native-macOS-like familiar look, which some may prefer.
  2. It can search not only windows but also browser tabs (not possible both in AltTab and Contexts)
  3. feature-rich customizability


  1. I have to say, it is the slowest among the three, which I think is critical for an app/window switcher.



  1. It is most responsive and stable among the three. Always pops up instantly without a delay.
  2. It offers many different ways to switch apps (panel, search, gestures, number switcher). For example, switching apps by Gestures is really good for macbook’s built-in trackpad. And you can have different settings for those.
  3. If you have multiple displays, Contexts shows up on all of your displays (you can disable it, too). You don’t have to look for where to look at.

And #4. Powerful search
I used to assign shortcuts in BTT for launching and switching apps. But after discovering how powerful it is, I decided not to use those shortcuts for launching/switching apps. Now I assigned other things like Alfred workflows or other app’s shortcuts.

Simply speaking, Contexts remembers the keyword that you used for specific apps, and it doesn’t have to do with apps’ name. For example, you can assign ‘A’ to Notes, ‘AA’ to Mail, ‘2’ to DEVONthink, everything in the boundary where your left hand could go without lifting your fingers from CMD-Tab.

That way, you can go to the app you want in a second, without even looking at the app switcher panel (because you know the keyword) while your right hand is staying on your mouse/trackpad/trackball (because you can assign everything on the left side of your keyboard). Very powerful.


  1. No thumbnails
  2. Not able to switch between browser’s tabs like Witch. (But I’m happy with Alfred’s tab search workflow)
  3. I can’t assign shortcuts in a way that I can in AltTab. Since I’m using a 60% keyboard (HHKB), I would like to assign ‘Escape’ to go backward, which I can do in AltTab but can’t in Contexts.

But I can live with these trivial cons.

Since it has a free trial period, I recommend you try it out. I think this app has been undervalued for what it does.

Plus, while I was reading this one-time-paid-apps-you-love
I had serendipity of finding out Charmstone by Ryan Hanson.



  1. very innovative approach to switching apps (using spatial memory), so simple but so powerful.
  2. Charmstone is like a 3-in-1 app (app launcher + app switcher + mini dock). That is to say, 1) you can launch apps; 2) you can switch between apps; and 3) you can interact with items on the Charmstone slots. For example, by dragging files or apps, you can move files to a folder that you have on Charmstone, or you can import files to DEVONthink, photos, or you can delete an app by dragging it to AppCleaner on Charmstone.
  3. It’s very responsive and stable.

At this moment, I can’t think of any. It perfectly does what it is supposed to do.

I hope you find it helpful.


Charmstone looks interesting. I just downloaded it and am playing with it now. The one thing that seems a bit off is requiring both the keyboard and a mouse/trackpad to activate it, but I was able to fix that with Better Touch Tool.

Why not go with a tiling window manager and the built-in macOS desktops? I have 5 desktops with certain tiled layouts on each one and that lets me switch to whichever app/window i want in 1-3 keystrokes.

Charmstone reminds me of Drag Thing, which runs on Mojave but development stopped at that point. It was not particularly good looking, but the floating docks it provided were very useful.

Yes, it always works with a mouse/keyboard combination, or with a keyboard alone. What did you do with BTT then?

Because I wanted to go straight to a specific app quickly regardless of what spaces or displays it is on.

I do not know about Drag Thing, but hope that Charmstone’s development would continue. :slight_smile:

I used BTT to set it so a four-finger tap on my Magic Trackpad simulates holding down Command + Shift (my shortcut to activate Charmstone) for five seconds. So, four finger tap, drag in the desired direction and click to swtich apps.

Charmstone looks quite interesting indeed - thanks