iOS Spotlight Overhaul

Posted by | September 14, 2012 | UI | 21 Comments

Watch the video above to get a better understanding before reading.

I don’t know about you guys, but I use Spotlight on iOS quite frequently. If I want to make a call, I’ll unlock my iPhone, swipe to the right and type their name into Spotlight. I open their contact info in the Contacts app, tap their number, and I’m callin’ em. Pretty easy, but maybe a step too long. I almost always want to call that person, having me open their information up in Contacts app and then having me click on their number doesn’t really make sense. Will that extra 4 seconds kill me? No, of course not, but with Apple products, we have come to expect the simplest and most elegant way of doing things.

That is why I propose this; an overhaul of Spotlight on iOS. A Spotlight that allows for instantly calling any contact, one where I can get my information quickly when I’m in a hurry and get out, a system where I can search within an application without me having to launch it first. Actually, I want even more than that.


The Results

As of right now, the following results can be found in Spotlight: Contacts, Applications, Music, Podcasts, Videos, Audiobooks, Notes, Events, Mail, Voice Memos, Reminders and Messages. You can search for stuff in 9 different applications, all pre-loaded onto your iPhone.

You can toggle which results come up and decide which results have priority over others. However, there is no way to filter within these results while searching. That’s the core of this revamp.


The first image is the current results for “Mike.” The second is my proposal, with the filter bar on the bottom. Tapping an app icon will filter results to that app, shown in the third picture.

Rather than changing what results come up in Spotlight, in settings you can modify which filters do, along with where they are placed (your filter bar will have pages as well, indicated by the page dots). Apps with 0 results will not show up at all.


Getting more use out of Spotlight

With this new system in place, you are capable of doing things a lot quicker. For example, tap phone numbers to call from Contact results. Tap their email adresses to email them. Tap “play” on a music result to play the song without ever entering the Music app. Check calendar events, or notes, or reminders instantly. You get all this information at a glance, without ever opening the applications. Of course, tapping the entry (the arrow in Contacts, entire clipping in Notes, etc) will bring you into that application.



UI Breakdown

Though some parts will vary, such as the tappable area to enter an application, the general idea stays the same. You always know where you’re searching, results will always be themed to the respective application and they will always be listed vertically.


A silent Siri

Siri is amazing, but sometimes, you’re in a situation where you can’t talk, or just don’t feel like it. Siri takes what you say and converts it into a text query anyway, so why not be able to type to Siri? Take a step back before answering that, and think of Siri as Apple’s answer to a search engine. Along with being a virtual personal assistant, Siri is a search engine, or an answer engine, rather.

With this in mind, if you have a general idea of what you’re looking for, this could provide rich Siri-esque results when you want ‘em without talking. You know you’re looking for a nearby restaurant, so use the Maps filter, and search for food. Checking your calendar? Filter to calendar with the date in the search field. Your iPhone is smart, so it’ll know what you’re looking for when you just type “pizza.”


Alternatively, there would be a Siri filter. This is a little silly, though, but would be easier for things like asking about movie showtimes, or Wolfram Alpha results. Those could be their own filters, however. “Smart filters,” even, that will only appear when your phone is able to tell that’s what you’re looking for. Even throw in a “talk to Siri” button, because why not?

What about the personal assistant aspect? Throw in some buttons that allow you to add reminders or calendar events from Spotlight. Okay, now I think I’m going a little too far, but you get the idea; this idea has a lot of potential to do some new and innovative things on iOS.



I find it hard to accurately explain each aspect of this proposed “Spotlight 2.0″ through text, so excuse the high quantity of images you were bombarded with. As I’ve said, this is essentially just a filtering system for Spotlight on iOS. With a few extras, it makes for an experience where you can do things much faster on iOS.

Everyone has Spotlight to the left of their first page of apps. It’s a large part of iOS. This could potentially speed up daily processes on your iPhone up by 200%, letting you do what you need to do in mere seconds, and then going on with your day, without ever launching an application. This isn’t to replace apps, but rather to compliment them and allow for simple tasks.

You can even get really crazy and say it’s a widget system. Or you can label all your reminders with “todo,” and make the Reminders filter a to-do list that you can check off. Or you can use it as your primary Twitter client in the Twitter tab. These filters would be the same quality of actual applications, with third parties developing their own filters to go with their applications.

Very useful for third party music apps

Why Apple would never do this

I would love to see these features in iOS, obviously. However, it’s pretty unlikely. In fact, it’s impossible; Apple would never implement such features. It’s just not them.

The biggest reason would be that Spotlight is meant to be as simple as possible. Filters, while powerful and very useful, isn’t Apple. Call it a flawless, well-kept system or call it thinking we are users are stupid, but Apple wants us to have the simplest experience with their products.

Then, in order for this to work, developers would need to develop entire new filters for their applications. Developer support for iOS, even right after a major release, is always pretty stellar, but this feature would pose a large workload on all existing and future apps.

This would also mean spending less time in applications. Sure, great for us who want to get back to doing things that don’t involve our phones, not good for developers and Apple. Generally, developers want you in their applications for as long as possible, not getting your information from a “widget” of sorts. Screw your busy schedule, think of the engagement time and ad money, dammit!

That’s not to say that Apple wouldn’t implement their own way to filter Spotlight results, or make it more useful. This is simply my answer to a broken Spotlight.

Update: 176 more pixels

Well, the iPhone 5 was announced. Regardless of your opinions, we do have 176 more pixels, vertically, to display information. You know what that means? Even more Spotlight results!

Update: Development Underway

Just wanted to mention here that development has started with this as a jailbreak tweak. The talented John Coates will be handling the development side of things, while I take care of design. I’ll keep you guys posted via this blog and my Twitter.


This lets you search through all your apps (ie, app store, facebook, etc), do basic functions (create reminders, tweet, etc), and lets you do everything on your iPhone a lot quicker.

Follow me on Twitter to get updates on this, as well as more design-related nonsense


  • Matt says:

    I think this is very apple-like and an incredible idea. You should make this a jailbreak tweak! Then, when it becomes popular, apple will copy it :)

  • Ral says:

    While I see your point in Apple never implementing this exact strategy, I can see them streamlining their spotlight search with Siri. Which is a step they like to take with other products to unify them across platforms. Think of iOS and OSX getting rid of spotlight all together. Rebranding it as Siri. You can talk to Siri, or type, with more streamlined and better search results.

  • [...] really deserves an overhaul, and that’s just what Cody Sanfilippo has done with his concept for a new [...]

  • Harnoor says:

    It’s a great idea and a great UI but two issues
    1. It limits the number of results displayed in one screen, which reduces the advantage that spotlight has: display things to easily choose from.
    2. Spotlight is used for making quick searches. If you have another filter it makes spotlight searches more complicated: For instance if you select contacts as your filter then does that remain the default for your next search or drops out? Also what if you select the wrong filter accidentally while searching, who do you go back to all. etc? what if you forgot you set a filter etc. the more options there are the more complicated it becomes.

    • cody says:

      Thanks for the feedback!
      I don’t know about you, but results are almost always limited on my iPhone. At most, I’ll see 7 results at any given time. With this, you get those 7 results, in addition to the power to filter out what you want. You don’t have to scroll through results to find what you want, and instead you filter to it. Then, depending on what you want to do, there’s a chance you can perform the task you were going to right from Spotlight, instead of opening the application first.

      As for your second point, this is just an add-on to Spotlight, not a replacement. The same ol’ Spotlight we know and love is still in place, only with this, we’d have more options to refine these results to find or do precisely what we want. You’re defaulted to the standard Spotlight results always, only when you tap on a filter will it do anything. You won’t forget you set a filter, the speed of this entire process and visual indications as to what filter you have selected will aid you in remembering where you are.

  • Harnoor says:

    I really like your ideas an implementation especially for the music. I would still like contacts and calendar to be a little streamlined to use up less vertical space though. You have a great portfolios as well.

    • cody says:

      Your kind words are appreciated!

      The idea behind making contact results large was to provide lots of tappable area for things such as tapping a number to call, or an email adress to send that person an email. You’d also have only so many contacts with the same first or last name, depending on what you are searching.

      For calendar, it was to match the Siri style, which seems to take up an appropriate amount of space. How many items in your calendar will match your search query, anyway? That’s the way I thouht of it, at least.

  • [...] Cody Sanfilippo put together this concept video of how Spotlight on iOS could work, and it's quite impressive. The current implementation of [...]

  • [...] visit the developers site here. Share this:TwitterFacebookPinterestLinkedInEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. Tags: [...]

  • Tim says:

    hey Cody – amazing work. Stunning shots…you could be an Apple promoter. It looks very genuine. Only a shame that I have to concur with you that Apple will never adopt it. You know what?! you should actually become Chief Apple Developer and push Apple to adopting your ideas.

  • Alex says:

    Excellent work on the presentation.

  • Ovi says:

    Cool concept. I hope Apple will start improving Spotlight search and the homescreen soon. But we may have to wait for iOS 7.

  • Barney says:

    The filtering here serves two purposes:

    • On the one hand, it reduces ambiguity of the search term. But then a few extra key strokes (where your hand already was, typing) or a quick swipe downwards can accomplish the same thing.

    • On the other, it provides the ‘light’ version of the host application you demonstrate. Current behaviour is that the given app will open (with all its features) on tap anyway. So there’s no real economy of movement – you still have an extra tap – but you get the reduced functionality of these new half-way house GUIs you’ve designed. So there’s no economy of movement, new interfaces to interpret, and less features.

    The original problem (if there were one) would lie in the fact that apps can take a second or two to open – but this is a hardware problem. Creating extra transient compromise steps in the OS isn’t the best solution for that. Besides, the new one’s plenty faster (apparently)…

    • cody says:

      Hey, thanks for the feedback! I love having conversation over this.

      The filtering would, if I had it my way, serve more than just two purposes. Quicker tasks, search refinement, more Spotlight results, search through all apps (not just stock Apple ones), better visual indication, etc. To address both your points;

      • As of now, Spotlight can only search through a handful of stock applications. I can be as specific as I want in my search term, and eventually find what I’m looking for, sure. However, I want to type “pin” and find Dark Side of the Moon, play it and swipe back to my homescreen.

      • Well, I assume you get that idea from the Twitter filter. It’s not really a light version of an application, rather, a companion that can do the job 50% of the time, or give you a head start. Think the weather or stock widget in Notification Center. I swipe down and get the information I want, no opening any applications. This new Spotlight can do the same, only with ALL applications as long as you filter to it. In addition to that, you can search for a friend on Facebook in it, tap their name and be brought to their timeline in your Facebook app.

      Regardless of how fast the iPhone gets, things fill quicker if we do them from the homescreen. I have not opened the Weather application since Notification Center was introduced. This is a step towards that ease of use, that could be utilized by those who want more power in searching. Again, it’s clear to me that this is something Apple would never implement, part for the reasons you mentioned and for the reasons mentioned in my post.

  • Bommel says:

    Awesome concept dude!!
    Just wrote about it:
    Keep ist going! ;)

  • Nice ideas! I mocked up something conceptually similar a few years ago for OS X:

    Your concept could benefit from having a global search that is scoped across applications (like the existing iOS Spotlight implementation) and app-specific scoping.

    • cody says:

      Ah, that is awesome! I had a similar thought with my initial rethinking of Spotlight. Basically, it was a universal gesture that brought a Spotlight field where you could search in whatever app you were currently in. The convenience of having Spotlight ALWAYS to the left of your first page made this method more attractive to me. Adding upon that with actual application functions, such as quickly getting information from apps and doing simple tasks like tweeting was the icing.

      What you said about the global and app-specific scoping, can you elaborate? Do you mean have a catch-all filter, with results from all applications, in addition to specific filters for individual applications? If so, that’s what this system would entail; the initial results will have all your results, as Spotlight does now; third party app results excluded, as it would get too messy. Then, you filter away from that and get exactly what you’re looking for.

  • My oversight! Yes, I see the magnifying glass icon to the left of the page dots. I’d include results from any app that provides a Spotlight plug-in, but it could become overwhelming with many apps installed.

    • cody says:

      Yeah, the initial reason why I didn’t want to include all app results. I mean, how many results will come up for each app? Sure, there might only be three “Mike” results that come up for, let’s say Netflix, but there will be a large number for Facebook.

      It would get nuts!

  • Gregory says:

    How is the development coming along Cody? I would lay down at least $25 for this as an app. Implement Evernote and OmniFocus… Wow, this could get to be really awesome!

    How do you expect it will do with memory? Will it be poky?

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