Configuration tips for Spotlight Search on your iPhone

Jack Wallen provides some configuration tips for Spotlight Search on your iPhone, from making it more efficient to disabling it entirely.

The Spotlight Search has been on the iPhone for a while now. It's a powerful tool that allows the user to search the entire contents of their device quickly and easily. Simply swipe your home screen from the left to the right to bring up the search tool (Figure A). From this screen, you can search the device, the web, and Wikipedia.

There are some people who believe that disabling this search tool will improve the performance of the device (this was especially so when migrating from an iPhone 3 to an iPhone 4). But for those with an iPhone 4S, you're probably not noticing much of a lag, due to Spotlight.

Figure A

Here you see the Spotlight Search tool on the Verizon-branded iPhone 4S.

Regardless of which device you use, you might want to gain a bit more performance and make your searching a bit more refined. This is all possible, thanks to the Spotlight configuration options that we'll focus on in a moment. But first, let's take a look at the basics.


Using Spotlight is as simple as it can get. Follow these steps:

  1. From your home screen, swipe from the left to the right
  2. When the Search tool opens, enter your search string in the text area
  3. As entries populate in the space below the text area (Figure B), select the entry you want to view
  4. If you want to search the web using this string, tap Search Web
  5. If you want to search for the string on Wikipedia, tap Search Wikipedia
Figure B

Being more specific will automatically narrow down your search results.

It's fairly rudimentary. Now, let's focus on making Spotlight more efficient for power users. These tips will go a long way for users with large amounts of data and files on their devices (especially users with tons of email). There aren't a lot of configuration options available for Spotlight, but those that exist make the tool much more efficient. Let's examine those options.

Configuring Spotlight

To get to the configuration options, tap Settings | General | Spotlight Search. Once on this screen (Figure C), you can begin the configuration. Figure C

Here you see the default settings for Spotlight, with everything enabled and in the default search order.

Take a look at the list of search types. By tapping the far left edge of each entry, you can enable or disable the entry. You can disable/enable Spotlight Search within:

  • Contacts
  • Applications
  • Music
  • Podcasts
  • Videos
  • Audiobooks
  • Notes
  • Events
  • Mail
  • Voice Memos
  • Reminders
  • Messages

By default, every option is enabled. You can make your search more efficient by disabling those entries you know you don't need. For example, if you know you don't keep Podcasts, Audiobooks, and Voice Memos, simply disable those entries.

As Spotlight runs a search, it checks each type listed above in the order that it's listed. You can make this even more efficient by switching around the order, such as seeing Email results first and Contacts second. To change this order, tap and hold the far right edge of the entry and then move it up or down, according to your needs.

Disabling Spotlight

The only way to actually (and completely) disable Spotlight is to jailbreak your phone and, from within Cydia, install a tool called NoSpot. But if you don't have a jailbroken phone, the closest you can get is to disable all search fields in the configuration options. Once you've disabled everything, you should notice a small bump in performance (this is especially true for those of you going from an iPhone 3 to an iPhone 4).

For anyone that depends on a search tool to keep your mobile life sane, you'll certainly appreciate the power of Spotlight. For those of you who don't use the tool much, you'll be happy to know you can configure it so that it doesn't interfere much with the performance of your device. Either way, Spotlight is there, waiting for your interaction.

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website