How to Search Your iPhone Using Spotlight

Take advantage of unified search across your iOS device

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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 straightforward. To help surface your content, iOS includes a tool called Spotlight that helps you find the stuff you've added to your iPhone or iPad.

We've tested these procedures using iOS 12, although Spotlight works the same way since iOS 7.

How to Access Spotlight on iPhone

spotlight on iphone

In iOS 7 and up, 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. Don't swipe from the very top of the screen; that gesture reveals Notification Center or, on iPhone X and newer, Control Center. The Spotlight search bar pulls down from the top of the screen. Type what you're looking for and the results will appear on the screen.

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 and Siri

Over the last few versions of iOS, Spotlight has ceded more and more territory to Siri. In iOS 7, for example, Spotlight had its own Settings menui that let you select which apps Searchlight examines. By iOS 12, Spotlight is governed by Siri. For example, to make an app "invisible" to Spotlight, you must disable it from the Siri & Suggestions settings in the app list. To access it, tap Settings > Siri & Search. At the bottom of the screen, each app lists its on/off configuration.

Spotlight and Siri come as a pair; by iOS 12, you cannot make an app visible to Spotlight but invisible to Siri, and vice versa.

Where Else to Find Search Tools in the iOS

Other search tools operate from within specific apps. These include:

  • Mail App: Access a search bar from the top of the screen in each mailbox. Simply drag the mailbox window down to reveal it. This tool only searches email in that inbox.
  • Music App: The tool remains 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: Access the search bar from the top of the screen.
  • Safari: Search your preferred search engine just by typing text into the address bar.