Spotlight tips for OS X El Capitan & Yosemite

Your Mac’s search tool is unparalleled in power and ease-of-use, as we explore with 10 top tips to squeeze the most from it

By

  • spotlight in el cap Search tech
  • spotlight natural language Natural Language search
  • 6. Move Spotlight Window Move the window
  • spotlight Seach sources
  • 2 spotlight click and drag Click and drag
  • 3 spotlight keyboard shortcuts Use keyboard shortcuts
  • 11 enhancedspotlight Expand Spotlight
  • 1 Spotlight icon Make Spotlight stick around
  • 4 Navigate Spotlight Navigate using keys
  • 5 filter spotlight results Filter Spotlight results
  • 6 contact info Contacts
  • 7 Recent files in spotlight See recent files
  • 8 Play media Play media in spotlight
  • 9 conversions in spotlight Conversions
  • 10 spotlight maths Maths in Spotlight
  • More stories
Next Prev

New in El Capitan: new search technology

Apple's upcoming OS X 10.11 El Capitan software update introduces a new version of Spotlight (the search technology inside OS X).

The new Spotlight search system introduces "natural language" searching. This aims to make it much easier to find items on your Mac. So you'll be able to type things like "emails from Kate" or "photos from last June". Because Spotlight is integrated throughout OS X you can also use these search terms inside other apps, like Photos and Mail. You can even type complex phrases like "emails from Bob last year that contain documents" or "that presentation that I was working on yesterday".

Next »

Next Prev spotlight in el cap

Apple's upcoming OS X 10.11 El Capitan software update introduces a new version of Spotlight (the search technology inside OS X).

The new Spotlight search system introduces "natural language" searching. This aims to make it much easier to find items on your Mac. So you'll be able to type things like "emails from Kate" or "photos from last June". Because Spotlight is integrated throughout OS X you can also use these search terms inside other apps, like Photos and Mail. You can even type complex phrases like "emails from Bob last year that contain documents" or "that presentation that I was working on yesterday".

 

Step 2 of 15: Using Natural Language in Spotlight

Here's how you'll be able to use Spotlight in OS X El Capitan:

  1. Press Command-Space to open Spotlight Search.
  2. Enter a natural search term, such as "Documents I worked on last week".
  3. As you type the Spotlight search window appears.
  4. You be able to click and drag to reposition the window in OS X El Capitan.
  5. You will also be able to resize the window in OS X El Capitan (something you can't do in OS X 10.10 Yosemite).
  6. Click on an item to view a preview in the Spotlight window.
  7. Double-click an item in Spotlight to open its corresponding app.
 

Step 3 of 15: Move the Spotlight window

One of the features that many are most looking forward to is the ability to move the Spotlight window around the screen in El Capitan.

In Yosemite the window was fixed in the middle of the screen, which meant it often overlapped the thing you had been doing that lead you to do the spotlight search.

By being able to move - and also expand - the window, Spotlight will become a lot more flexible.

 

Step 4 of 15: New sources for Spotlight

Apple is also introducing new sources for Spotlight in OS X 10.11 El Capitan. Here are some of the new things you'll be able to check for in OS X El Capitan:

  • Stock Prices. Enter "what is the stock price for Apple today" to get stock results.
  • Weather conditions. Enter "What's the weather like today" to get a weather forecast.
  • Weather forecasts. You can also check for weather forecasts. Enter "what's the weather like in Barcelona on Thursday" to get a specific forecast.
  • Sports scores. Enter "did Manchester City win" to get the latest sports results.
  • Web videos. Enter "gangham style video" to view the video again

Because much of Spotlight search is reliant on back-end systems some of the Spotlight search features are missing in the beta version, but Apple is rolling them out as they go and we'll have more in-depth testing when it launches.

 

Step 5 of 15: Click and drag from Spotlight to open

Any entry in Spotlight’s list of results can be clicked and dragged onto a Dock icon in order to open it in that particular application.

For example, you could drag a .doc file in the list of results onto TextEdit’s Dock icon to avoid it automatically opening in Microsoft Word when you click it.

You can also drag and drop entries from the list of results to the desktop or to any open Finder window to instantly create a copy.

This even includes things like Dictionary entries, which will create a shortcut to that look-up.

Read: Alternatives to Spotlight

 

Step 6 of 15: Use keyboard shortcuts in Spotlight

The most useful keyboard shortcut all Mac owners should know is Cmd+Space, which opens the Spotlight window, but the following are useful when the Spotlight window is already open:

Option (held down): Shows the location of the currently selected item as text at the bottom of the right of the Spotlight window.

Cmd+R or Cmd+Enter: Reveals the currently highlighted Spotlight result’s location. Files will be revealed in Finder windows but contacts, emails or other results will be opened for viewing in the default apps.

Cmd+L: Jump to the dictionary definition in the search results (if there is one).

Cmd+I: Open the file info dialog box for the current result, if it’s a file, folder or application.

Cmd+B: Search for the term in the default browser, using whatever search engine is selected as default too.

Cmd+Backspace/Cmd+full stop (period): Instantly clear the Spotlight search field.

Cmdl+Z: Undo, as in any other app, but useful if you reuse the Spotlight window without closing it because it can not only undo typing but can also restore to a previous search.

Read: Mac keyboard shortcuts your should know

 

Step 7 of 15: Expand Spotlight with plugins

Spotlight’s understanding on files and things can be expanded via plugins and a wide range are available, but perhaps the best is Flashlight.

This brings something very like Siri to Spotlight and you can type sentences like “remind me to buy shampoo tomorrow” in order to create a new entry within the Reminder app, or “text pete: I’m going to be late” to create a new iMessage/SMS. 

Flashlight comes with its own plugins too, so you can expand it with just a few clicks. The best news? It’s all entirely free of charge.

 

Step 8 of 15: Make Spotlight window stay on top

The Spotlight search window usually disappears as soon as you click outside of it but a quick trick makes it stay on top of everything else – terrific if you want to copy text from it, for example.

Open Spotlight in the usual way and perform your search. Then right-click the Spotlight icon at the top right of the desktop. It’ll turn blue (or graphite, depending on your system appearance choice) to indicate the Spotlight window is now “floating” – the term Apple uses to refer to windows that don’t disappear.

To get rid of the window, just click the Spotlight icon again.

UPDATE: We're sorry to say that Apple appears to have taken this particular feature away, perhaps in the 10.10.3 update. Obviously Apple saw it as a bug that needed fixing...

For more OS X Yosemite tips read: Advanced OS X Yosemite tips and OS X Yosemite Tips: the basics

 

Step 9 of 15: Navigate Spotlight using keys

The previous tip isn’t all you can do with the keyboard when using Spotlight. By tapping the up and down cursor keys you can navigate through the results.

Hold down Alt (Option on some keyboards) and you’ll jump to the individual headings in the search results.

Tap the Tab key and you’ll move the highlight across to the right-hand side of the Spotlight window when viewing folders, allowing you to open any shown there by tapping Enter.

 

Step 10 of 15: Filter Spotlight results

To force Spotlight to search only for a particular type of result that matches your search term, such as images, type kind: and then the type of file you’re looking for. For example, to search only for audio files matching the word bieber, I’d type the following:

kind:music bieber

To search for office files matching the word report, type the following:

kind:documents report

Other options you can try, and which should be self-explanatory, include kind:word (also try excel and powerpoint), kind:pages (also try numbers and keynote), kind:spreadsheet, kind:presentation, kind:app, kind:bookmark (searches browser history too), kind:contact, kind:chat, kind:event (also searches reminders), kind:folder, kind:movies, kind:images, kind:fonts and kind:pdf. You might also try author: and date: – author:john smith will return documents and emails created by that person, for example, while date:1/4/15 will return only items created or received on 1st April 2015.

 

Step 11 of 15: See contact info in Spotlight

Spotlight is built-in to the Contacts app and it lets you see everything relating to that person stored in your Mac.

Just open Contacts as usual, search for the individual, and then click Edit > Spotlight.

The results will appear in a Finder window.

 

Step 12 of 15: See recent files in Spotlight

Some apps, including Apple’s own core OS X apps, will show a list of recently-used files when you type their name into the Spotlight search field.

For example, type TextEdit or Preview, and on the right of the Spotlight window you’ll see a list of items you recently accessed using that app.

Clicking one will open it for editing or viewing, or you can tap the Tab key to then use the cursor keys to select one.

Alas, apps like Microsoft Office aren’t yet compatible with this feature, and unfortunately apps like Mail and Contacts are bafflingly incompatible too.

Read: Microsoft Office for Mac 2016 release date and preview

 

Step 13 of 15: Play media in spotlight

It’s not entirely obvious but if your search results include audio or movies, you can move the mouse cursor over the preview on the right of the Spotlight window in order to show a play button, which will start playback when clicked.

Playback will continue once the Spotlight window disappears too! Just re-open Spotlight to access the pause button.

This even works for the search results that appear under the iTunes heading, meaning you can listen to snippets of a song you might want to purchase.

Read: Tips for QuickTime Player X

 

Step 14 of 15: Conversions in Spotlight

Typing any kind of measurement into Spotlight will instantly show conversion into other units.

Type 100ft, for example, and you’ll see instantly that it’s 30.48 metres.

Type £100 and you’ll be told it’s $147.

Any text on the right of the Spotlight window can be selected using the mouse and copied for pasting elsewhere.

 

Step 15 of 15: Do maths in Spotlight

Spotlight includes a nifty calculator. Simply type the expression – for example, 2+2 or 15 - and you’ll see the result instantly.

For multiplication and division, use * and / respectively.

Constants such as pi are understood (just type pi), and for square roots type sqrt followed by the number in brackets, such as sqrt(9). cos, sin, and tan also work as you’d expect – for example, type cos(90).

Spotlight’s maths function is an extension of the tools built into the command line of OS X. To learn more about what other commands you can use for maths in Spotlight, open a Terminal window (open Finder, select the Applications list, and then in the list of applications double-click Terminal within the Utilities folder), type man math, and then look under the List of Functions heading.

Read more Yosemite tutorials including: 

How to use System Preferences in Mac OS X Yosemite

How to get Continuity on an unsupported Mac

Email tips for Yosemite, use Mail's new features

How to AirDrop from iPhone to a Mac and Mac to iPhone

Surface Pro 5 News - release date, UK price, features, specs

Surface Pro 5 News - release date, UK price, features, specs

Gear VR vs. Daydream: Which delivers the best VR experience?

Gear VR vs. Daydream: Which delivers the best VR experience?

Best Mac antivirus 2017

Best Mac antivirus 2017