What Is Spotlight Search? It's The One iOS9 Feature You Need To Know

When iOS9 was released on September 16, it instantly became big news. I mean, pretty much any new Apple product is instantly big news — but iOS9 came with a whole bunch of proverbial bells and whistles that made it even bigger than usual. One feature in particular, though, is definitely worth your time: Spotlight Search. What is Spotlight Search in iOS9? It's not new — and, in fact, it's been around for a few years now — but this latest operating system update has punched up its abilities in some terribly exciting ways, so I'm calling it now: It's the one iOS9 feature you absolutely need to know.

First, a little history: Spotlight was originally announced as a system-wide search feature for Apple's Mac computer operating system in June of 2004, with the software itself shipping with Mac OS X v10.4 in April of 2005. The iOS version, meanwhile, received its initial announcement in March of 2009, way back when we were still gearing up for iOS3. (My, how time flies, does it not?) At its release in June of 2009, iOS' Spotlight Search function was primarily used to dig through contacts, mail metadata, calendars, and other related features — things that were inherent in the operating system itself, rather than, say, elsewhere on the Internet. The ability to search text messages didn't even come along until iOS4; however, that particular update also included the ability to use Spotlight to search the web and Wikipedia, revealing the tip of the proverbial iceberg that is the software's usefulness.

In recent years, iOS Spotlight Search has been upping its game considerably. iOS8, which launched in September of 2014, included more intuitive web results — and now, in iOS9, you can use it to do things like search within third-party apps already installed on your phone. There are limitations to it, of course, which I'll talk about a little more below; however, Spotlight Search in iOS9 is capable of accomplishing tons of useful things, so if you only learn how one of the many, many features included in the new operating system work, make it this one.

Here are seven ways you can harness the power of Spotlight Search. Although they're by no means the only things you can do with it, they're a good place to start; the possibilities aren't quite endless, but they're certainly many. To use it, just pull down when you're on your iPhone's home screen, and voila: Search bar. When you have a few minutes to toy around with it, try using Spotlight Search in these ways:

1. As a Calculator

Not unlike Google Chrome's omnibar, Spotlight's search box can be used as a calculator simply by typing in an equation. Just, y'know, in case opening the Calculator app is too much.

2. As Your Own Personal Meteorologist

Searching for “weather” tells you the current conditions for wherever your GPS thinks you are. Today is a lovely day in southern New Jersey, apparently.

3. To Search Within Apps

This one is arguably the biggest and best addition to Spotlight Search. Don't feel like going through the rigmarole of opening Yelp and finding the nearest place to caffeinate yourself? Just use Spotlight to search for “coffee.” Tapping the Yelp icon with the description “See results for 'coffee' near you” will open up the app with all the nearest coffee shops and cafes already displayed for you. Neat, right?

You can perform this action for all sorts of other terms, too, by the way; searching a particular hashtag, for instance, brings up results from Twitter and the news:

There's a catch, though: Not all apps automatically support Spotlight's third party searches. Developers will have to update their apps to allow for integration, so just because you have the switch for a particular app toggled on in your settings (go to Settings > General > Spotlight Search, then toggle whichever apps you want Spotlight to crawl when it looks for results) doesn't necessarily mean that Spotlight will pull up results for it.

4. To Figure Out Where You Are

Or where something else is. Spotlight searching for Times Square, New York lets you access the Maps app's information about the location at the tap of an icon. Handy, no?

5. To Look Something Up on Wikipedia

Like a list of alternate reality games that have been executed throughout history. Tap the icon when it comes up and it'll take you directly to that particular Wikipedia page.

6. To Find an App in the App Store

Don't have Google Drive installed? Want to fix that? Spotlight Search for the app and you can go directly to its page in the App Store. Easy-peasy!

7. To Navigate Your Settings

The settings of most electronic devices are notoriously difficult to find your way around, but thanks to Spotlight Search, the iPhone's are easier than they've ever been before. Once you're in the Settings menu, just pulled down to bring up the search bar and type in what you're looking for. All your options will display, making it easy to navigate to the one you actually need.

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