Using Spotlight in iOS 9 for Offline Conversions and Calculations

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It can be difficult to memorize all of them, but there’s no denying that keyboard shortcuts provide the fastest way of navigating an operating system. I do still think Apple has a lot of holes to plug with regards to missing shortcuts on iOS, but they are making strides with every dot update (ex. iOS 9.3 brings new shortcuts for iBooks). 

However, one feature that has really grown over the past few years is Spotlight. It got some major upgrades in iOS 8 with Spotlight suggestions — little contextual suggestions based on location or app usage — but there was still a strange disconnect between what Spotlight and Siri could provide. Siri could do calculations and quick conversions, but only if you used your voice. If you typed a conversion request like “53 CAD to USD” into Spotlight in iOS 8, you’d simply get an offer for a web search. 

iOS 9 changed that by integrating Siri with Spotlight, granting some more intelligent and proactive parsing to the universal search bar. Having the Smart Keyboard attached 99% of the time has made Spotlight into the Swiss Army Knife of my iPad Pro — the quick tool I utilize in a lot of my daily activities. I love how quickly the feature activates, and how I can summon it regardless of which app I’m in.

One of my favourite use cases after I press Cmd + Space to activate Spotlight is as a quick conversions and calculation tool. The iPad has long been missing a default calculator app (what’s with that, anyway?), but I no longer pine for one in iOS 9. Spotlight can help me in a pinch with lightning fast calculations and conversions. It’s so good that it has even replaced long-standing third party apps like Calcbot (which offered great conversion options and a really fun calculator interface).

Typing “3 lbs in kg” into Spotlight will show me a live conversion as the first search result, but what’s even cooler than that is that Spotlight knows I’m likely converting from imperial to metric, so simply writing “3 lbs” will show me the same search result. This is really handy, and much faster than any other third-party app I’ve used.

The same seems to go for my ever-worsening currency conversions from USD to CAD. Any time I’m about to shop for something online, I end up checking the exchange rate in Spotlight. It’s both depressing and highly efficient. I have done this enough times that I can simply write 300 USD and Spotlight will suggest the (much larger) sum in Canadian Dollars.

One last thing I realized only recently is that Spotlight seems to cache currency conversion rates. I’m not sure how often it refreshes the cache, but it does make enable currency conversions offline, which came as a pleasant surprise to me. I’ve always known Siro to be a service that’s completely dependent on an Internet connection, it’s interesting to see that certain aspects can be cached for offline use.

My next step for Spotlight would be to have it automatically parse other types of data. I want to be able to type “Event Lunch at Red Lobster Sunday 12pm” and see an option to create that exact event in my default calendar, and have it show up as the first search result in Spotlight. The same should be possible for creating Reminders. I don’t mind having to learn a specific syntax to do this, or mimicking the existing syntax for creating notes, events, and reminders within Siri. I also don’t see any reason why this couldn’t be an entirely offline module for Spotight, as well. If this type of enhancement could make it into an iOS 10 preview this June, I foresee Spotlight being one of the biggest selling points of iOS for power users.

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