With the upcoming release of iOS 15 for Apple mobile devices, Apple’s built-in search feature known as Spotlight will be much more functional. In what may be a major update since Siri Suggestions was launched, the new version of Spotlight becomes an alternative to Google for several key queries, including web images and information about actors, musicians, TV shows, and movies. It will now also be able to search your photo library, provide more complete results for contacts, and connect you more directly to apps and the information they contain. It even allows you to install apps from the App Store without leaving Spotlight itself.
Spotlight is also more accessible than ever.
Years ago, Spotlight was moved from its position to the left side of the home screen to be available with a down swipe in the center of any screen in iOS 7, which helped increase user adoption. Now it’s also available on the iPhone’s lock screen with the same swiping gesture.
Apple showed off some of Spotlight’s enhancements during its keynote address at the Worldwide Developers Conference, including new search maps for looking up information about actors, movies and shows, and musicians. This change alone could divert a good chunk of web searches away from Google or dedicated apps like IMDb.
For years, Google has provided quick access to general search queries through its Knowledge Graph, a knowledge base that allows information to be gathered from various sources and then used to add information fields above and next to standard search results. As part of this effort, panels on actors, musicians, shows, and films are available.
But now, iPhone users can easily get this information on their home screen.
The new cards contain more than the typical Wikipedia biographies and background information you might expect – they also contain links to the content of the artist or actor or film or show in question, where you can listen to or watch content. They include news articles, social media links, official websites, and even take you to where the person or topic you are looking for is in your own apps (e.g. guest podcast).
To search for images on the web, Spotlight now also allows you to search for people, places, animals and more from the web – another search area that Google offers today.
Your personal searches have also been updated with richer results in iOS 15.
When you search for a contact, you will be directed to a card that not only shows their name and availability. You can also see their current status (thanks to another iOS 15 feature) as well as their location from FindMy, your recent conversations in messages, your shared photos, calendar appointments, emails, notes and files. It’s almost like a personal CRM system.
The search for personal photos has also been improved. Spotlight now uses Siri intelligence to help you search your photos for people, scenes, and items in your photos, as well as by location. And it’s able to take advantage of the new Live Text feature in iOS 15 to find the text in your photos to return relevant results.
This could make it easier to bring up photos that have a prescription, receipt, or even handwritten note on them as a screenshot, Apple said.
Some features related to the integration of Spotlight with apps were not mentioned during the keynote.
Spotlight now shows action buttons in Maps results for companies, prompting users to interact with that company’s app. In this case, the feature uses app clips, which are small pieces of a developer app that allow you to quickly complete a task without downloading or installing the app in question. For example, Spotlight prompts you to go to a restaurant’s menu, buy tickets, make an appointment, order takeaway, join a waiting list, view game times, pay for parking, check prices, and more.
The feature requires the company to support app clips in order to work.
Another under the radar change – but a significant one – is the new ability to install apps from the App Store directly from Spotlight.
This could lead to more app installs as it reduces the number of steps from a search to a download and makes querying the app store more widely available throughout the operating system.
Developers can also add a few lines of code to their app to make data from the app discoverable in Spotlight and to customize the presentation for users. That means Spotlight can act as a tool for searching content in apps – another way Apple is redirecting users from traditional web search in favor of apps.
However, unlike Google’s search engine, which relies on crawlers crawling the web to index the data it contains, Spotlight’s in-app search requires developer adoption.
Still, it’s clear that Apple sees Spotlight as a potential rival for web search engines, including Google’s.
“Spotlight is the universal starting point all Your searches, ”said Craig Federighi, SVP of Software Engineering at Apple, during the keynote event.
Of course, Spotlight can’t yet process “all” of your searches, but it seems to be working steadily towards that goal.