A First Look At Apple's OS X El Capitanby Ryan Smith on June 15, 2015 3:00 PM EST
Spotlight Gets Smarter: More Web & Natural Language Search
In Yosemite, Apple introduced the modern version of Spotlight, their combined local & web search tool. Replacing the previous drop-down iteration that was focused on local results, the rebuilt Spotlight became a pop-over window – practically a miniature application of its own – featuring not only improved local searching, but the ability to search and preview web sources as well.
For El Capitan, Apple is taking this a couple of steps further by giving Spotlight the ability to not just do keyword searches, but to better understand the context of searches and return results within Spotlight itself. Though Apple is not being overt about it, in a lot of ways the latest rendition of Spotlight is becoming increasingly Siri-like, as it gains a lot of Siri’s abilities to present data, and not just find it as was the case with Yosemite Spotlight.
On web side of matters – and by far the most Siri-like addition – Spotlight can now return and display results directly for the weather, stocks, sports, web videos, and integrate with Safari and Maps to include some of their search functionality as well. As it stands Spotlight can still only do a fraction of what Siri does, mostly due to the fact that it lacks Siri’s deep server-side analytic capabilities, but at the end of the day it’s in many ways a pared-down version of Siri for local use, capable of directly displaying results for some very common types of queries.
The single biggest difference here is really that Spotlight is just for searching, so it lacks any kind of command functionality. However I suspect that may be just a matter of time, especially as Microsoft is integrating their competing Cortana agent into Windows 10.
Moving on, the other major addition to Spotlight is the ability to understand natural language queries. Just as was the case in the OS’s included Mail application, Spotlight overall can execute natural language searches over documents, or over any application it is allowed to search in (e.g. Mail). As with Mail, the idea here is to make it easier to create queries, especially complex queries or queries for first time users, though all of the existing methods of searching remain unchanged.
As it stands I’m finding natural language searching a bit hit & miss. Some queries it handles well, while others it essentially fails to understand the query and falls back to web results. I suspect there’s a trick to this I haven’t quite picked up on when it comes to figuring out just what Spotlight can understand. Still, this is also a beta release and Spotlight is one of the few areas I’ve had issues with (requiring a system reboot at one point), so it may just be a case of needing to shake out the bugs.