Your Mac hijacking your cursor and asking you to wait is never welcome. People call it various things, including the spinning wheel, the beach ball, or the pinwheel of death.
The good news is that a spinning wheel means macOS hasn̵
What is the Spinning Wheel of Death on a Mac?
That rainbow spinning wheel (whatever you might call it) is a regular macOS watch cursor. It is triggered when an application is unresponsive for a few seconds and tells you to wait before giving the app further instructions.
How to fix the spinning wheel of death
A spinning wheel (or beach ball) is an operating system sign that an app is not behaving as it should. This is one of the better problems you can run into as it means that your system is probably working fine. It’s probably only one app causing the problem. If you find the app and fix it, you should be golden.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how to find the app in question and how to get rid of the spinning wheel.
Find the app that is causing the problem
A spinning wheel generally means that macOS has detected a problem in a specific app. The good news is, it also means your entire system (including the operating system) hasn’t crashed. In fact, a spinning wheel does not necessarily mean something has (still) crashed.
If it’s not clear yet, you can find the app that’s causing the problem by browsing the running apps. To do this, press Command + Tab or just click around the screen (your mouse should still work even though the cursor has changed).
If you don’t know which app is causing the problem, Activity Monitor may be able to help. You can start it by going to Applications> Utilities or searching for it in Spotlight. Under the CPU tab, click the “% CPU” column to organize the list by current system usage.
This puts the thirstiest apps at the top of the list. See if anyone is using more than their fair share of CPU resources. You may also see ‘(Not Responding)’ after the app name in the list. Resist closing the app and proceed to the next step.
Wait a second
Often times the spinning wheel of death appears when an app is trying to do something. For example, it may appear when you try to render a video in an editing program or perform batch edits in a photo editing app. It can even appear when connecting to a server in an online game.
In these cases, waiting is the best option. If you’ve already told an app to do something, you might as well give it some time to finish the task. Sometimes this is not something you have explicitly asked for. For example, the macOS Photos app performs image analysis on a series of photos that you have recently imported.
Other apps should work normally during this time, assuming you don’t put a huge load on the system (like rendering video or 3D models). Get away from your computer for a few minutes and let your Mac fix the problem.
Force the problem app
If you’ve waited a while for tasks to complete but your computer is still not responding, it might be a good idea to force quit and restart the app. If you have any unsaved data or work, you could lose it doing this, so make sure you’ve given the app long enough to recover.
You can try to exit the app normally first. To do this, right-click (or two-finger click, or Control + click) the icon in the Dock, then choose Shut Down. It may take a while for the app to respond. However, by disabling it normally, you can avoid losing any unsaved work.
Unfortunately, this does not always work. You can also force quit an app by right-clicking the icon in the Dock, holding down the Option key on your keyboard, then selecting Force Quit.
You can also launch Activity Monitor, find the app and exit the process from there.
When the problem app closes, the spinning wheel of death should disappear. You should now be able to reopen the app and try again.
Do you have a persistent pinwheel? Restart your Mac
If the pinwheel refuses to disappear or keeps reappearing, it’s a good idea to restart your machine. Just click on the Apple logo, select “Restart” and wait. After your machine has rebooted, it should be fast and responsive, with no waiting cursors in sight.
Sometimes your Mac crashes in such a way that restarting via Apple logo is not possible. If this happens (and you feel like you’ve waited long enough to respond), press and hold your Mac’s power button (or the Touch ID button on some MacBooks) until it turns off.
This is the last resort for major system crashes and you will lose all unsaved work in the applications that are still running. If possible, save and close any apps that are still responding before attempting this step.
A frequent spinning wheel indicates other problems
It’s reasonable to expect the spinning wheel from time to time, especially when it comes to resource-intensive applications. However, if you start seeing it often and in different applications, it could indicate a bigger problem.
In this case, the condition of your system can contribute to software instability. A common cause is a lack of available storage space. Your Mac needs free space to function. Both the operating system and third-party applications swell and shrink their storage usage over time
So first, make sure your Mac has enough free space. Apple does not specify the “correct” amount of free space. However, we recommend that you leave about 10% of your primary disk space free (about 20 GB on a 256 GB MacBook). That should be enough to turn the gears.
A lack of RAM can also cause the spinning wheel to appear frequently in apps with a lot of memory. There’s not much you can do about this unless you’re using an iMac, Mac mini, or Mac Pro that can upgrade the memory.
RELATED: 10 Ways to Free Up Disk Space on Your Mac’s Hard Drive
Are you using Yosemite or earlier? Permissions for repair
If you’re stuck with an older version of macOS, such as 10.10 (OS X Yosemite) or earlier, you can try to restore disk permissions if you see the spinning wheel often.
To find out which version of macOS you’re running, click the Apple logo in the top left and select About This Mac. If it is version 10.11 or higher, you can skip this section.
If you are on version 10.10 or earlier, start Disk Utility by going to the Applications> Utilities folder or searching for it in Spotlight. Select the main startup disk (usually referred to as “Macintosh HD”) from the sidebar, then click “First Aid”. Let your Mac scan and fix any errors it finds.
This is not necessary on 10.11 (El Capitan) or later, as Apple has made changes to the way the consent system works.
Beachball is gone!
Hopefully, these tips will give you a good idea of how to solve future spinning wheel (or beach ball) problems of death.
However, keep in mind that the only good thing about seeing the spinning wheel is that the problem is probably one app. However, if you have system-wide instability, you may want to learn how to fix a frozen Mac first.
RELATED: Fix a frozen Mac