How to find things quickly on your iPad or iPhone using Spotlight

The fastest way to find things on your iPhone

The iPhone, iPad and iPod touch allow you to store so many apps that you may find it tricky to locate the app you want from the pages of icons on your screens. The quickest way to find what you are looking for is to use Spotlight, which allows you to search your iOS device quickly and easily. This article takes a look at Spotlight and includes a preview of Spotlight under iOS 8.

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  • iOS 7 Spotlight 1
  • Search results 2
  • Refining your search 3
  • Web search via Spotlight 4
  • Customising Spotlight 5
  • Spotlight categories 6
  • Finding files 7
  • Spotlight in iOS 8 8
  • Beyond Spotlight 9
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Step 1 of 9: Access Spotlight on iOS 7

Prior to iOS 7, accessing Spotlight was done by swiping to the left of the first home page, but our current version of the system did away with that feature, removing the visual cue of a tiny magnifying glass to the left of the first home screen dot located at the bottom of the screen, and leaving you with apparently nothing.

However, all you need do to access Spotlight now is place your finger on the screen (but not at the very top) and swipe down. A search field then appears at the top of whichever home page you happen to be, although this function doesn’t work if you’re in a folder.

[Read our iOS 8 preview]

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Prior to iOS 7, accessing Spotlight was done by swiping to the left of the first home page, but our current version of the system did away with that feature, removing the visual cue of a tiny magnifying glass to the left of the first home screen dot located at the bottom of the screen, and leaving you with apparently nothing.

However, all you need do to access Spotlight now is place your finger on the screen (but not at the very top) and swipe down. A search field then appears at the top of whichever home page you happen to be, although this function doesn’t work if you’re in a folder.

[Read our iOS 8 preview]

Step 2 of 9: Searching on the iPhone

Start typing in the field at the top of your screen and it will get populated with options based on what you wrote.

You’ll have a top hit of what your device thinks you want and everything after that is based on where the information is gathered: contacts, application, music, notes, etc.

This list updates in real time; even changing just a single letter could give you totally different results. If the information you want hasn’t appeared, keep typing until it does.

Once you’ve located it, tap on it to be taken to the app or the file you’re looking for. This isn't an exhaustive search though as Spotlight can only search in some specific documents, the list of which will be revealed in Step 5.

Step 3 of 9: Refining your search

You can of course keep on tapping on the delete key to remove any text in the search field and start again, but the little ‘x’ to the right of it is designed for this very purpose: tap on it and the whole field is cleared.

‘Cancel’, to the right of the field, gets you out of Spotlight and back to whichever home page you were in when you first brought it up.

Step 4 of 9: Searching the web via Spotlight for iOS

If you’re looking for something that’s not on your device, Spotlight is of limited help: right at the bottom of the list is a ‘Search Web’ and ‘Search Wikipedia' option.

Tapping on either will open up Safari and take to you to Google or Wikipedia respectively.

If you prefer using a different browser, Spotlight won’t take your choice into preference and open Safari anyway, so it may well be best to avoid Spotlight if you’re looking for something on the web.

Step 5 of 9: Customising Spotlight for iOS

It is possible to customise what information is shown and in which way it is displayed in Spotlight. In order to do this, visit the Setting app. Scroll down until you find the ‘General’ menu. From there, ‘Spotlight Search’ should be the fourth option from the top.

You’ll see a list of twelve items - each one represents a category that Spotlight looks for when bringing up what it hopes are useful results.

You can limit what Spotlight delves into by tapping the categories you’re not interested in. Doing this removes the tick to the category’s left.

Step 6 of 9: Reorder Spotlight categories

But you can go a little further than that: by default, your contacts will appear first, right after the ‘Top Hit’ section which remains at the top of the list, no matter what you unselect.

However, you can reorder the categories to make sure what you’re looking for appears first. To do this, tap on the right hand side of a category and drag it up or down to change its position on the list.

This way, the next time you do a search, what you want to come up on top, will.

Step 7 of 9: Finding files on your iPhone

You don’t necessarily need to use Spotlight if you know where the information is located: Notes has a search field solely dedicated to notes, and so does Mail, for instance, but the greatest advantage of Spotlight is the fact that you don’t need to remember where you’ve put the information yourself.

If you’re in any doubt about where a file is located, use Spotlight and more often than not, you’ll find it.

In addition to this, swiping down from any Home page is a lot quicker than finding an app, launching it and using its own search field.

Step 8 of 9: Spotlight in iOS 8

With the advent of iOS 8, Spotlight will be including features that are also present in the forthcoming OS X Yosemite update, like the ability to look beyond the data stored on your device.

You will be able to look for webpages, with Spotlight offering you a brief summary of a selected page before taking you to Safari to see the rest, for instance.

You’ll also be able to look for map locations, or even movie times for your local cinema (here’s hoping that that feature will also work outside of the USA).

Step 9 of 9: Use Spotlight to search, iTunes, App Store

Apple have also gone further in iOS 8 to integrate Spotlight into their stores, so if you’re looking for a specific song that’s not in your library, for instance, one of the results will take you to the iTunes Store where you can purchase it directly.

The same applies for links to the App Store and presumably any type of digital media that you can purchase directly from Apple, i.e., movies, TV shows and books.

This will make Spotlight an even more useful tool to have when using an iOS device going forward.

You can read more about iOS 8 tutorials over in our iOS 8 topic zone including: 

iOS 8 Family Sharing

New Calendar features

Use Spotlight on your iPhone

iOS Notification Centre

Alternatives to iCloud Drive

New features in Photos for iOS 8

Guide to Apple’s Health and HealthKit

New Messages features

Guide to Continuity

Apple iCloud Drive

Alternatives to Apple's iOS 8 keyboard

New features in Apple's iOS 8 iPhone Camera

Using QuickType and Swype in iOS 8

New features coming to the Mail app on your iPad or iPhone in iOS 8

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