Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.
Spotlight is one of the best features of OS X. It lets you search for absolutely anything on your computer or the Internet with a quick press of a couple keys.
This ability has been around on iOS devices for a while, but it’s gotten a whole lot more powerful with iOS 9. Here’s what you need to know to become a master of Spotlight on your iPhone.
Before you start using Spotlight, you’ll need to find it. There are two ways that you can access Spotlight with a quick swipe: you can swipe down on any homescreen to get the abbreviated search panel (seen on the right in the image below), or swipe right to get the more full-featured one (on the left).
Why would you want the one with fewer features? Probably to run a quick search when you know you don’t need any shortcuts suggested by iOS. For the most part, though, swiping to the right and getting the more robust screen is the better way to go.
The Search Bar: More Powerful than Ever
When you open Spotlight, you’ll see a number of shortcuts to various things, and you might think that’s the best that Spotlight has to offer. But if you just use those shortcuts, you’re missing out on Spotlight’s most powerful feature: the search bar. Below I’ve searched for “black” — take a look what comes up.
The search results start with three contacts in my Contact app with the last name “Black.” Pretty standard. Next, however, is the Marvel Unlimited App, which surely contains a lot of issues with “Black” in the name. Following that is the entry for black in Wikipedia. After that are a number of suggested websites. Then a list of songs on my phone with “Black” in the title; all I have to do is hit the play button and I’ll be rocking.
Following that is an entry in my food log from Myfitnesspal for black beans. After that, a note in my Evernote app called “In the Left Field of Satan—A Look at the Weirder Black Metal Bands.” Then there are images that contain “black” in the filename stored in my Google Drive app. And movies with “Black” in the title from the IMDB app. Then a number of messages in my Messages app from the contacts listed above.
All of that from a simple quick search! All I had to do was enter one word, and I got results from Apple native apps, third-party apps, and the Internet at large.
There are all sorts of great uses for this search, from getting specific city results in travel apps to recommendations from the App Store. The more apps you have, and the more searches you run, the more useful this feature will be.
And there are plenty of other tricks you can do in the search bar. Spotlight can solve math equations and convert currencies, for example:
It converts other units, too, like temperatures, weights, and distances. It can show you movie times and get the weather for another city:
You can get sports scores and stock reports:
And if you type “wiki” and a search term, you can go directly to a page from Wikipedia on what you’re looking for without opening Safari:
While it doesn’t quite have the power of OS X’s amazing Spotlight search (or cool plugins to make it better), the search tool in iOS is really impressive and can help you find anything you’re looking for, no matter whether it’s on your phone, out on the Internet, or in your own cloud storage.
Siri’s Suggested Contacts and Apps
Siri is primarily a voice-activated digital personal assistant, but Apple also uses her artificial intelligence skills in trying to figure out the apps and contacts that you’re most likely to open, and she’s pretty good at it!
When you swipe right to open up Spotlight, you’ll see a section called Siri Suggestions that contains a list of four contacts and four apps. If you want to call, text, or Facetime one of those contacts, just tap their picture and choose the method of communication you want to use from the list of icons that pops up.
The list of apps below is exactly what you’d imagine — tap the icon and that app will open. Siri analyses the way you use your apps and puts them on this screen to give you quicker access to them. So if you always read the news in the morning or check Facebook after work, you’ll find those apps appearing here at the relevant time of day.
If you tap Show More to the right of Siri Suggestions, you’ll get a list of eight contacts and eight apps and Siri will remember your choice — you’ll see sixteen suggestions the next time you open up Spotlight. This is a bit more useful when it comes to apps, as you might not have all eight of your most commonly used apps on your first homescreen.
Apple Maps’ Nearby
Apple has really stepped up their game with the Maps app in iOS 9, and its integration into Spotlight recommendations is one of the cool new features in this version of the operating system. When you open the Spotlight screen, there’s a Nearby section where you can choose from four different categories. Tap one of them and you’ll be brought to the Maps app and shown nearby options for that category.
The new Maps app has a lot of great suggestions for you on things to visit nearby, from museums to coffee shops. In fact, it’s now one of the best ways to find interesting things in your vicinity using an iPhone!
Quick News Hits
Want to see what the latest headlines are without opening up a news app? Just flick over to Spotlight and you’ll see the first four stories from the News app (you can also expand this to eight stories by tapping Show More). One tap and you’ll be brought to the News app to read the story.
If you aren’t using the News app to get your news, I highly recommend it; you can customize a number of sources to get the stories that you’re most interested in, and the interface is really great. It’s probably the quickest way of get a quick news hit on your iPhone, and you don’t even have to open an app.
There aren’t a whole lot of options you can change for how Spotlight works, but you can change a couple things if you want to limit what your search results show.
You can choose which types of suggestions are made on this screen by going to Settings > General > Spotlight Search and turning off the corresponding app. Turn off Contacts to no longer get recommended contacts, turn off Maps to get rid of the Nearby section, or get rid of Spotlight Suggestions to turn off the news feed.
And if you go to the same settings page, you can tell Spotlight not to show results from specific apps. The coolest thing about Spotlight is that it searches everything, but if there’s an app that’s messing up your searches, you can just tell Spotlight to ignore it.
The World in the Palm of Your Hand
Spotlight has long been one of the best features of OS X, and with iOS 9, Apple has brought much of its to mobile users too. The ability to search just about everything on your phone, whether it’s in an Apple app or a third-party one, as well as the entire Internet from the same search bar opens up a lot of possibilities. If you’re not using it, you’re missing out!
Do you use Spotlight on your iPhone or iPad? Which features do you find most useful? Did you know about the ones listed above? Share your best tips below!