How iOS Spotlight ought to work


I don’t know about you guys, but I use Spotlight on iOS quite frequently. If I want to make a call, I’ll unlock my iPhone, swipe to the right, and type someone’s name into Spotlight. I open their contact info in the Contacts app, tap their number, and I’m callin’ em. Pretty easy, but maybe a step too long. I almost always want to call that person, so having to open their information in Contacts and then click on their number doesn’t really make sense. Will that extra four seconds kill me? No, of course not, but with Apple products, we have come to expect the simplest and most elegant way of doing things.

That is why I propose this: an overhaul of Spotlight on iOS. A Spotlight that allows for instantly calling any contact, one where I can get my information quickly when I’m in a hurry, and a system where I can search within an application without having to launch it first. Actually, I want even more than that.


The results

As of right now, the following results can be found in Spotlight: Contacts, Applications, Music, Podcasts, Videos, Audiobooks, Notes, Events, Mail, Voice Memos, Reminders, and Messages. You can search for stuff in nine different applications, all pre-loaded onto your iPhone.

You can toggle which results come up and decide which results have priority over others. However, there is no way to filter within these results while searching. That’s the core of this revamp.

Spotlight1 How iOS Spotlight ought to workThe first image is the current results for “Mike.” The second is my proposal, with the filter bar on the bottom. Tapping an app icon will filter results to that app, shown in the third picture.

Rather than changing what results come up in Spotlight, in settings you can modify which filters do, along with where they are placed (your filter bar will have pages as well, indicated by the page dots). Apps with zero results will not show up at all.


Getting more use out of Spotlight

With this new system in place, you are capable of doing things a lot quicker. For example, tap phone numbers to call from Contact results. Tap their email addresses to email them. Tap “play” on a music result to play the song without ever entering the Music app. Check Calendar events, or Notes, or Reminders instantly. You get all this information at a glance, without ever opening the applications. Of course, tapping the entry (the arrow in Contacts, entire clipping in Notes, etc.) will bring you into that application.

Spotlight2 How iOS Spotlight ought to work

UI breakdown

Though some parts will vary, such as the tappable area to enter an application, the general idea stays the same. You always know where you’re searching, results will always be themed to the respective application, and they will always be listed vertically.

Spotlight3 How iOS Spotlight ought to work

A silent Siri

Siri is amazing, but sometimes you’re in a situation where you can’t talk or just don’t feel like it. Siri takes what you say and converts it into a text query anyway, so why not be able to type to Siri? Take a step back before answering that and think of Siri as Apple’s answer to a search engine. Along with being a virtual personal assistant, Siri is a search engine, or an answer engine, rather.

With this in mind, if you have a general idea of what you’re looking for, this could provide rich Siri-esque results when you want ‘em without talking. If you’re looking for a nearby restaurant, for instance, you would use the Maps filter and search for food. Checking your calendar? You would use the Calendar filter with the date in the search field. Your iPhone is smart, so it’ll know what you’re looking for when you just type “pizza.”

Spotlight4 How iOS Spotlight ought to workAlternatively, there would be a Siri filter. This is a little silly, though, but would be easier for things like asking about movie showtimes, or Wolfram Alpha results. Those could be their own filters, however. “Smart filters,” even, that will only appear when your phone is able to tell that’s what you’re looking for. Even throw in a “talk to Siri” button, because why not?

What about the personal-assistant aspect? Throw in some buttons that allow you to add reminders or calendar events from Spotlight. Okay, now I think I’m going a little too far, but you get the idea. This idea has a lot of potential to do some new and innovative things on iOS.

Spotlight5 How iOS Spotlight ought to work


I find it hard to accurately explain each aspect of this proposed “Spotlight 2.0″ through text, so excuse the high quantity of images you were bombarded with. As I’ve said, this is essentially just a filtering system for Spotlight on iOS. With a few extras, it makes for an experience where you can do things much faster on iOS.

Everyone has Spotlight to the left of their first page of apps. It’s a large part of iOS. This could potentially speed up daily processes on your iPhone by 200%, letting you do what you need to do in mere seconds and then go on with your day, without ever launching an application. This isn’t to replace apps, but rather to complement them and allow for simple tasks.

You can even get really crazy and say it’s a widget system. Or you can label all your reminders with “todo,” and make the Reminders filter a to-do list that you can check off. Or you can use it as your primary Twitter client in the Twitter tab. These filters would be the same quality of actual applications, with third parties developing their own filters to go with their applications.

Spotlight6 How iOS Spotlight ought to workVery useful for third-party music apps


Why Apple would never do this

I would love to see these features in iOS, obviously. However, it’s pretty unlikely. In fact, it’s impossible. Apple would never implement such features. It’s just not them.

The biggest reason is that Spotlight is meant to be as simple as possible. Filters, while powerful and very useful, isn’t Apple. Call it a flawless, well-kept system, or call it thinking we users are stupid, but Apple wants us to have the simplest experience with their products.

Then, in order for this to work, developers would need to develop entire new filters for their applications. Developer support for iOS, even right after a major release, is always pretty stellar, but this feature would pose a large workload on all existing and future apps.

This would also mean spending less time in applications. Sure, great for us who want to get back to doing things that don’t involve our phones, but not good for developers and Apple. Generally, developers want you in their applications for as long as possible, not getting your information from a “widget” of sorts. Screw your busy schedule, think of the engagement time and ad money, dammit!

That’s not to say that Apple wouldn’t implement their own way to filter Spotlight results, or make it more useful. This is simply my answer to a broken Spotlight.


Update: 176 more pixels

Well, the iPhone 5 was announced. Regardless of your opinions, we do have 176 more pixels, vertically, to display information. You know what that means? Even more Spotlight results!

Spotlight7 How iOS Spotlight ought to work

Update: Development underway

Just wanted to mention here that development has started with this as a jailbreak tweak. The talented John Coates will be handling the development side of things, while I take care of design. I’ll keep you guys posted via this blog and my Twitter.

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