How to use iOS Spotlight like a launchbar for your iPad

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Let these shortcuts take care of your morning routine, so you can focus more on important things, like breakfast.
Let these shortcuts take care of your morning routine, so you can focus more on important things, like breakfast.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Every morning, after I park my iPad in its desk stand, I start writing the same way: I play the same music playlist; I start the Focus app, which reminds me to take breaks; and I create a new Ulysses sheet to start typing in. And I do all of these almost without touching the screen.

You’d be surprised at how much you can do on the iPad with just the keyboard. Today we’re going to see some cool examples, plus a bonus Good Morning shortcut.

All these tricks are done from Spotlight, which is widely known as a search tool for your iPhone or iPad but which is actually a powerful launcher. We have a whole how-to on using iOS Spotlight, and one on using it as an app launcher. Today we’ll see that you can even interact with apps without opening them.

Focus break reminders

Let’s start with an example to see what I mean. I use an app called Focus to remind me to take regular breaks. I like it because it puts a widget in the Today video, and it can be controlled from Spotlight.

To start it, I just hit ⌘-Space on my Bluetooth keyboard (you can swipe down on the home screen if you have no keyboard attached), and type Focus. Usually the result will appear after typing only a couple of letters. I’ll see this:

Focus’ Shortcut actions show up in Spotlight results!
Focus’ Shortcut actions show up in Spotlight results!
Photo: Cult of Mac

If an app has Shortcut actions, then these can be accessed straight from the Spotlight search screen. In this case, I want Start Focus Session. I can tap this to open it, but I can also just use the tab and arrow keys to select it, and then hit return. The action then opens, right inside Spotlight:

Just reach up and tap to start.
Just reach up and tap to start.
Photo: Cult of Mac

This time you have to reach up and tap the screen. Consider this your first exercise of the day. The result:

Focus’ countdown begins.
Focus’ countdown begins.
Photo: Cult of Mac

And that’s it. The timer starts, and I can start working. Time for some music.

Use Spotlight to play a music playlist

Search for and play music, right from Spotlight.
Search for music and play it, right from Spotlight.
Photo: Cult of Mac

I have a playlist loaded with music that is good for working. It was called **Working**, but I changed it to zzgl to make it into a unique search result. To play this playlist, I just hit the same ⌘-Space shortcut, type zzgl, and the list shows up in the results. I then hit return to start it playing. Again, this is all done from the keyboard.

Bonus content: A shortcut to do it all

The final step of my morning routine is to launch a new sheet in Ulysses, but as that works the same way as the last two steps, I thought I’d show you a shortcut instead.

Shortcuts are usually built like computer programs, by chaining steps together to manipulate some data. But you can also just throw a bunch of unrelated steps into a shortcut and have it run them one after the other. Like this:

Here’s a simple multiple-launcher shortcut.
Here’s a simple multiple-launcher shortcut.
Photo: Cult of Mac

This shortcut starts my Focus timer, plays my playlist, and opens up Ulysses with a new blank sheet. I can run it from Spotlight (of course!), or from the today widget. It runs invisibly, too. The only result I see is that Ulysses opens. The rest just happens in the background.

And of course you can customize this as much as you like. Why not try it?