How to Search Your iPhone Using Spotlight

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It's easy to pack your iPhone with music, contacts, emails, text messages, videos, and so much more. But finding all of those things when you need them isn't quite as easy.

Luckily, there's a search feature built into the iOS called Spotlight. It allows you to easily find and use the contents on your iPhone that match your search sorted by the apps they belong to. Here's how to use it.

Accessing Spotlight

In iOS 7 and up, you can access Spotlight by going to your home screen (Spotlight doesn't work if you're already in an app) and swiping down from the middle of the screen (be careful not to swipe from the very top of the screen; that reveals Notification Center). The Spotlight search bar pulls down from the top of the screen. Type in the content you're looking for and the results will appear on the screen.

On iPhones running earlier versions of the iOS, getting to Spotlight is very different. On those devices, there's a tiny magnifying glass above the dock and next to the dots that indicate the number of pages on the phone. You can bring up the Spotlight search window by tapping that magnifying glass, but it's tiny, so tapping it accurately can be tough. It's easier to swipe across the screen from left to right (just as you'd do to move between pages of apps). Doing that reveals a box at the top of the screen labeled Search iPhone and a keyboard below it.

Spotlight Search Results

Search results in Spotlight are sorted by the app that stores the data being shown. That is, if one search result is an email, it will be listed under the Mail heading, while a search result in the Music app will appear under that. When you find the result you're looking for, tap to be taken to it.

Spotlight Settings

You also control the types of data that Spotlight searches on your phone and the order that results are displayed. To do that in iOS 7 and up:

  1. From the home screen, tap Settings.

  2. Tap General

  3. Tap Spotlight Search.

In the Spotlight Search screen, you'll see a list of all the apps that Spotlight searches. If you don't want to search a particular kind of data, simply tap it to uncheck it.

This screen also shows the order in which search results are displayed. If you want to change this (if you're more likely to search for music than contacts, for instance), tap and hold the three bars next to the item you want to move. It will highlight and become moveable. Drag it to its new position and let it go.

Where Else to Find Search Tools in the iOS

There are search tools built into some the apps that came pre-loaded with the iOS, too.

  • Mail App - it's at the top of the screen in each mailbox. Simply drag the mailbox window down to reveal it. This only searches email in that inbox.
  • Music App - also hidden at the top of lists of songs, artists, etc. Pull the screen down to reveal it and search your music library.
  • Messages App - on the screen that lists all of your Messages conversations, the search bar at the top lets you search the text of conversations to find where your terms have been discussed. 
  • Contacts & Phone Apps - hidden at the top of the contacts list in iOS 3-6, always present in iOS 7 and up.
  • Notes App - you'll never guess where the search bar lives (hint: at the top).