The iPhone 13
Image: Apple

Data detectors (the small highlights under phone numbers, words and other text) have been around in macOS and iOS for a number of years. But in recent years, Apple has secretly been adding additional features to certain pieces of text to make them smarter.

Today, iOS has data detectors for phone numbers, email address, shipping tracking numbers, flight numbers and more. We’ll delve into these in iOS in this tutorial and show you the power that lies in iMessage, Mail and Safari for being able to easily view live flight status, track a package and more using the built-in data detectors in iOS 15.

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The majority of these data detectors work in all of the first-party apps that have text input, from Notes, Mail and Messages, to Safari. Give it a try the next time you see a bit of text underlined and you might just be surprised to discover a new feature in iOS.

These features are also available on macOS by clicking on the underlined data in Messages, Mail and Safari as well. On macOS if the text is also a link, you can usually access the data detector functionality by right-clicking on the text.

How to track flight numbers in iOS 15

One of the newer data detectors added to iOS is the ability to get real-time flight tracking data. If your airline, trip management software or a friend sends you a flight number, you can easily track that flight by just tapping on it in Messages, Safari or Mail, then selecting Preview Flight.

In the resulting view (Figure A), a map will show the direction of the flight (if it’s in flight, a different map will appear giving real-time flight information), the origin, destination, departing and arrival times, duration of the flight, and the baggage claim information (handy for when you land at your destination).

Figure A

Tapping on a flight number will open the flight tracking information panel in iOS or macOS.

How to track packages in iOS 15

Tracking packages has become a full-time job as more and more items are being ordered online. Fortunately, iOS and macOS are here to help with built-in package tracking abilities. If you encounter a tracking number in Mail, Messages or Safari, simply tap (or right click on macOS) on it, and select Track Package (Figure B).

Figure B

When a tracking number is selected, you have an option to Track Package or copy tracking number.

This will open up Safari to the carrier’s tracking page and will automatically enter your tracking number so you can find out where your package is located. This works with most major providers in the U.S. and overseas, including USPS, FedEx, UPS, DHL and more.

How to get address directions or apply to contacts in iOS 15

Another data detector that has been around in iOS for a while, but has undergone significant changes in the most recent version of iOS, is the address data detector.

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Whenever you encounter an address in iOS 15, tap and hold on the address to bring up a small mini map showing the location (Figure C), but then scroll up to see actions associated with the address. The actions include, getting directions in Maps to the address from your current location, opening the destination in Maps, adding the address to a contact, copying the address or sharing the address with Mail, Messages or another app.

Figure C

The mini map and actions that appear whenever you tap and hold on an address in iOS 15.
Cory Bohon / TechRepublic

This feature is handy if you want to quickly see where the address is located on a map, but don’t want to fully open the Maps app, or if you want to add the address to a new or existing contact without the intermediate step of copying and pasting the address into the Contacts app.

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