Let’s take a bit of a break from criticizing iOS 9 and shine a light on one aspect that has been working really well so far: Spotlight Search for third-party apps. I honestly had my doubts about this one when it was announced. It’s an exciting prospect and could prove to be a new, extremely powerful way to navigate your information, regardless of the app. That’s because it’s often easier to remember a piece of information (“pie recipe”) rather than which app you’ve placed that information in. Swiping between different home screen pages and opening app folders can very quickly become disorienting, and I’ve often found myself entering apps only to ask: what was I looking for again? Spotlight search for third-party apps addresses this issue by letting you type into the search bar and find relevant results, organized by app.
Once implemented by an iOS 9-compatible app, specific developer-specified strings of your data become indexed for Spotlight search. Some examples of apps doing this are:
- search the inbox (but not archive) for the title or contents of any note
- search for notes by title in any notebook available on your device
- search for notes by title + content in any notebook available on your device
- enter the name of a movie and see IMDB results in Spotlight
Of the implementations thus far, I think I like Microsoft’s OneNote the most because of how flexible it is. Any note that contains the exact phrase you typed into the search bar will appear in the list, and tapping on that result will open OneNote with that particular note loaded up. If it isn’t the one you’re looking for, you can always tap the “Back to Search” button in the top-left corner to return to Spotlight.
What has really impressed me is that these results do show up instantaneously. I thought there might be a bit of a lag, but however iOS indexes this information, it’s very efficient about it. I also like the option of the “show more” button displayed alongside each app in Spotlight, which makes it easy to show or hide the fully indexed results.
Of course, Spotlight could quickly turn into a gigantic mess of results from all of your apps — especially if you’re searching for more generic terms. Thankfully, there is the option to turn search off on an individual basis in Settings -> General -> Spotlight Search. Turning an app off in that list will keep its own serach results from showing up, but you can still find the app within Spotlight if you type its name (e.g. typing “Evernote” will still show Evernote as an app, even if its search has been switched off). It’s just too bad you can’t sort this list manually, like you can with notifications.
The only app to mess up Spotlight Search so far has been IMDB. I’ve tried reinstalling the app, toggling its search results on and off, and even resetting my iPad. Nothing seems to work to get movies to show up in Spotlight like they’re supposed to. That’s not a bad track record for Spotlight in iOS 9, though, and this new feature is only becoming more useful as more apps add to it. Third-party keyboards still need a lot of work, but Apple really nailed Spotlight search as far as I’m concerned.