4 smarter ways to search on your iPhone or iPad

If you're hunting for a specific mail message or looking for a name in a lengthy web page, skip Spotlight and try a specialized iOS search tool instead.

4 smarter ways to search on your iPhone or iPad
Credit: Ben Patterson

When it comes to performing a search on your iPhone or iPad, you probably immediately start with Spotlight, the “universal” search tool for OS X and iOS that scours your email, calendar, contacts, the web, and more—all at once. But while spotlight certainly makes for a jack-of-all-trades mobile search tool, you could also call it a master of none.

For example, Spotlight won’t do you much good if you want to narrow your search down to Mail messages you sent to a certain contact, or photos you snapped in a specific city and in a given year. Only Safari’s search tool will highlight a search term within a webpage, while Settings search (yes, Settings has its own search box) is the best way to track down an obscure system toggle. Read on for four smart, non-Spotlight ways to search on your iOS device.

Search within a webpage

The Spotlight search tool does a solid job of searching the web for any search term you can dream up, quickly displaying “top hits” as well as a shortcut to Safari.

In some cases, though, you may find yourself hunting for a specific name or term within a page, and here’s where Safari’s search box comes in handy.

Search within a webpage Ben Patterson

Just tap the arrows at the bottom of the screen to highlight each instance of a search term on a webpage.

Let’s say you want to find mentions of William Shatner within the “Star Trek” Wikipedia page. Just visit the page in Safari, tap the address/search box at the top of the screen, tap the little “x” button to clear out the URL, then type “Shatner.”

At the bottom of the search results, you’ll see an “On This Page” heading. Tap “Find ‘shatner’” to highlight every mention of the word on the page, then tap the arrows at the bottom of the screen to cycle through each mention.

Search Mail for names, subject lines, senders and recipients

Just as it can with web searches, Spotlight can quickly sift through all your Mail messages for pretty much anything, offering up a pile of hits that contain a given search term.

If you want to narrow your search results, though—for example, if you only want to search subject lines rather than then entire body of all your messages—you should skip Spotlight search and head directly to Mail’s search box.

Search Mail for names, subject lines, senders and recipients Ben Patterson

The search tool in iOS’s Mail app will let you narrow a contact search to the “To” and “From” fields.

Give this a try: Enter a search term (“safari,” for example), tap “Search for ‘Safari’” under the search box, then tap the “safari” search term again.

When you do, a pair of tabs will appear just below the search box: “Message” and “Subject.” Tap the Message tab to see a list of each and every message with the word “safari” in either the subject line or the message body, or tap Subject to restrict your search to subject lines only.

Next, enter the name of a contact in the search box. Again, tap “Search for ‘[contact name]’” and tap the name again in the search form, and this time you’ll get three tabs: “From,” “To,” and “Message.” Tap “From” to narrow your search to messages with the contact in the “From” field, “To” for messages with the sender in the “To” line,” or Message to search the entire message, including the body.

Search your photos for places and times

Yes, navigating the dozens (hundreds? more?) of so-called “Moments” in the iOS Photos app can be a royal pain. Luckily, the Photos search tool can make it much easier to find the snapshot you’re looking for, even if you haven’t bothered to create and name custom photo albums.

The trick: search for specific places, years, and/or months. For example, if you want to see all the photos you took during your trip to Sacramento last Christmas, just search for “Sacramento December.”

Search your photos for places and times Ben Patterson

Finding the right “moment” in your Photos library becomes much easier once you take advantage of place and time search.

You can also tap the search box to reveal a series of quick searches, such as “Nearby” (to see photos you’ve taken near your current location), “One Year Ago,” and “Home” (assuming you’ve flagged an address as your home).

Bonus tip: If you’re using Google Photos for iOS, here’s a nifty trick that you won’t find in Apple’s Photos app: The ability to search by person. Tap the search box to see thumbnails of individual people it’s identified; tap a face to see all their photos, or tag the group of photos with a name.

Search for a setting

The iOS Settings screen has become seriously cluttered, with more than 30 main headings plus separate settings for most of your installed apps—and of course, each heading is stuffed with anywhere from a handful of options to dozens. Sometimes, pinpointing just the right setting can feel like finding a needle in a haystack.

Search for a setting Ben Patterson

Looking for an obscure sound setting in iOS? If so, the Settings search box is your new best friend.

Luckily, it’s possible to search for a setting. Just go to the main Settings screen and tug down to reveal the search box, then plug in a search term.

Try something generic like “sounds” to see a shortcuts to nearly a dozen sound-specific settings, or search for an app like Facebook or Gmail to jump directly to its settings (rather than having to scroll through the lengthy list on the main Settings screen).


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