How to Search Your iPhone Using Spotlight

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It's easy (and fun!) 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 iPhone called Spotlight. It allows you to easily find and use the contents of your iPhone and iPad, since they run the same operating system, that match your search sorted by the apps they belong to. Here's how to use it.

How to Access Spotlight on iPhone

spotlight on iphone
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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 or, on iPhone X and newer, Control Center). The Spotlight search bar pulls down from the top of the screen. Type in what 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.

Besides the apps on your phone, Spotlight also searches the web. If there are relevant results for your search, you'll also get suggestions of answers from Siri, the web, Wikipedia, and more. At the bottom of the list of search results, you also have one-tap shortcuts for searching on the web, in the App Store, and in Apple Maps.

Spotlight Settings

In some versions of the iOS, 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 7-12, follow these steps:

  1. From the home screen, tap Settings.

  2. Tap General.

  3. Tap Spotlight Search.

On versions of the iOS that support this option, you'll see a list of all the apps that Spotlight on the Spotlight Search screen. 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. These include:

  • 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).
  • Safari: Search your preferred search engine just by typing text into the address bar.