Remove annoying clutter from iPad Spotlight searches

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spotlight
No, not this kind of spotlight.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

If you use Spotlight to find stuff on your iPhone or iPad, you’ll be familiar with the mess of results you get when you search. Maybe you’re searching for a note or an email about that really important thing, only the actual results you want are buried under a heap of nonsense from twitter, from YouTube, from all the Ebay classifieds you’ve viewed, and so on.

The good news is, you can trim these results, eliminating the noise you don’t need. The even better news is that recent versions of iOS do this is a much more elegant way.

How did Spotlight get so cluttered?

 

Spotlight search results
A properly-set-up Spotlight only shows you what you’re looking for.
Photo: Cult of Mac

The secret to successful Spotlight searches (swipe down from the middle of the home screen to start) is to eliminate the competition. Ever since iOS 9, Spotlight has been able to search inside apps, which is a fantastic feature: You can search everything on your iDevice, all from the Spotlight search box, and open the result directly in its host app. This could be tasks in a todo app, or a document in Ulysses.

But now pretty much any app makes its contents available to Spotlight, even apps whose contents you never want to search on. Take a look in Settings > Siri & Search, then scroll down to see just how many of your apps can potentially clutter up the search results. I have a ton of music effects apps, for instance, none of which I would ever want to show results in Spotlight.

Remove apps from Spotlight results

In this settings screen, you can tap an app icon, and then disable its Spotlight index. Just uncheck the Search & Siri Suggestions box and that app’s documents will no longer appear in Spotlight results.

In older versions of iOS, this switch also stopped app from showing up in Spotlight entirely. Many people use Spotlight as an app launcher, typing the first few letters of the app’s name, and then tapping its icon to launch it from the search results. It’s a fantastic trick for keeping a tidy iPhone or iPad when you have hundreds of apps. Just dump those lesser-used apps in folder, and use search to launch them when you need them. It’s fast, and reliable.

The new Show App options dioes exactly that.
The new Show App options dioes exactly that.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Previously, though, Spotlight was an all-or-nothing option. If you stopped an app listing its contents in Spotlight, the app wouldn’t show up in search, either. Now, though, when you disable Search & Siri Suggestions, a new switch appears: Show App. This option lets the app itself keeping showing up in Spotlight search results, while its documents don’t. You can enable it for, say, a YouTube app so that it doesn’t offer you results from your embarrassing viewing history, but you can still quickly launch the app itself.

Small but handy tweaks

This change to the settings, which has been added sometime since iOS 11 as far as I can remember (get in touch if you know exactly when, or if I just misused it and the option has always been there), is tiny, but makes a massive difference to “power” users. I often work with a keyboard hooked up to my iPad, and I use Spotlight all the time, mostly as an app launcher (it makes a decent alternative to Launchbar on the Mac in this capacity). This tweak makes Spotlight so much better, I recommend it for anyone who is even an occasional Spotlight users.

Currently I’m going through this list and disabling all the apps I don’t need. It’s going to take a while though. I’m doing it alphabetically during coffee breaks, and I’m only up to “B.”