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.

Spotlight On Sports

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.

Spotlight On Weather

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.

Natural Language: Files

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.

Natural Lanague: Email

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  • whyso - Monday, June 15, 2015 - link

    Dumbest OS name I've every heard. Personally I can't take it seriously.
  • solipsism - Monday, June 15, 2015 - link

    OK, then refer to it as 10.11. What I can't take seriously is anyone that takes issue with a damn code name for SW. Your focus should be on whether the OS suits your needs, not whether you disagree with that the use of a Spanish term, a famous rock formation, or whatever reason you may have.
  • retrospooty - Monday, June 15, 2015 - link

    LOL. He is probably thinking of something more like Zorro and less like the massive granite formation in Yosemite. - Inigo Montoya would be proud.
  • solipsism - Monday, June 15, 2015 - link

    1) My guess is Apple's new code names that are all visually stunning points of interest/locations in CA are simply to bring awareness. My assumption with their first choice being Mavericks is that they weren't going to pick official location names like cities or national parks, but use names that are quasi-official or simply colloquial. Mavericks and El Capitan are good choices in that since as many having already some familiarity with the Yosemite National Park (although I have to wonder how many in the world saw it and pronounced it |yo-semite| or |yo-sa-mite|)

    2) They don't do this with iOS which has a much larger draw, so why continue this trend with Mac OS X? Even watchOS will likely outnumber Mac users in a few years. I wonder if the name is simply based on whatever impressive image they wish to use for their default desktop background. If that's the case that's a pretty weak reasoning for the nomenclature. But, again, it's just a naming convention so the real focus should be on whether the OS is worthwhile to the user or not.
  • StormyParis - Monday, June 15, 2015 - link

    to harp on the "designed in California" they're using to glamour up the "made in China" they're forced to put on their products.
  • Murloc - Tuesday, June 16, 2015 - link

    oh so that's what it is.

    Something 99% of people in the world have never heard about in their life, and they just see "the captain" in Spanish with no apparent reason for that choice and have a laugh.
  • Alexey291 - Saturday, June 20, 2015 - link

    Pretty much. To most people (unless they had it explained to them - which in itself is stupid) it sounds like Apple has gone Mexican all of a sudden
  • Shinzo Abe - Sunday, July 5, 2015 - link

    I see your point, but let's not be ignorant about it--- the world is very different right now and has been for years from a time where that would be considered a bad thing. You're writing about lively people that are just like you as if you know their worth.
  • close - Tuesday, June 16, 2015 - link

    You should understand that for anyone living outside the US (probably most of the people living outside of California) the name is a joke. Also, if product names weren't important you wouldn't have so much money and effort put into this.

    If the name sounds like a joke you're very likely to consider the product as some sort of joke. Ok, Apple can afford this since the name is tied to the MacOS brand and also it's not like most users have much of a choice or wide selection of products.

    But I bet you have avoided plenty of products because of the name and that you laughed at some. It's hard to take this name serious regardless of the landmark it refers to.
  • Murloc - Tuesday, June 16, 2015 - link


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