A new tool is quietly appearing in many new and old apps that makes it easier for users to get around and get things done quickly. It’s a supercharged search box that I’ve dubbed the “power bar” and is sometimes referred to as the “command palette.”
Similar to Apple’s Spotlight search on macOS, power bars are built into a specific app and generally summoned with a shortcut like CMD+K (or CMD+SHIFT+P) and then typing in what you’re trying to do. Unlike Spotlight, however, power bars allow you to complete actual tasks rather than simply finding files or navigating to other parts of the app.
In a tool like email client Superhuman, for example, the power bar allows you to do anything that could be done by clicking a button in the app—without lifting your hands off the keyboard. Hitting the keyboard shortcut from an email in Superhuman and typing “schedule,” hitting “Enter,” and typing “next week” is far faster than hunting and clicking around an interface to do the same task if you understand how to use it.
A well-designed power bar allows people to navigate an entire app without touching the mouse and doesn’t require an exact phrase match in order to find the task. Searching for “snooze” or “later” instead of “schedule” should surface the same results because people use different words for the same task, particularly when they’re new to a tool. Most critically, virtually every task that can be performed in an app must show up in a power bar’s results to ensure it can be trusted to get anywhere, not just in a handful of cases.
Power bars are beginning to appear a lot more frequently in all kinds of apps over the last few years. I’ve found them in the slideshow tool Pitch, a calendar app called Cron, more complex tools like Visual Studio Code, issue tracker Linear, and even in Adobe Photoshop as well as an array of other places. I have a hunch they’re…