Apple iOS Spotlight Search Not Working Properly

Spotlight Search

There are so many apps and folders of apps on my iPhone, I’ve given up on organizing them.

True, I could use touch screen and move the apps around and create folders, but it’s a lot of apps and that is a slow process.

Or you would think that problem could be solved by digging out a cord and hooking up Apple iPhone to an Apple computer and using Apple iTunes to drag and drop my folders easily? You know: using the computer processing power of a desktop computer that a tablet or phone does not have (yet) would be easier, right?

Sadly, iTunes has been a design joke for years: Apple is known for making great products and experiences by focusing on the design and the user’s experience with them, yet iTunes remains this devil’s compromise of under delivering and over promising what any logical person knows one piece of software should not do:

iTunes needs to be selling digital goods, managing said digital goods, storing your credit card information and profile, managing your entertainment network of devices, and now being a streaming music competitor–that making an above average app organizer for your a phone and tablet is the least of their worries.1

My problem with managing all these apps and folders of apps has not been a problem since I could use global search on my iPhone: “Spotlight Search” acts as my only path to my apps. By pressing an unlocked screen and swiping down on an app screen, the search box appears. I then enter in my search terms and the iPhone starts looking for apps named similarlity to that keyword.

Maybe then the iOS looks inside your contacts database for similarly named people, and, if that fails, offers options to search the Web, App Store, or Maps in the latest version of iOS. It’s fairly basic experience. You’ve done it a thousand or million times without thinking.

This has been my backup and backbone for dealing with the iPhone OS.

Until it stopped working on my phone.

Spotlight Search Stopped Working

I’m not sure how or when it stopped working. It just flaked out and I’ve been left to hunt and peck for apps like someone typing at a computer for the first time. Might as well be left to paining on cave walls with this smart phone.

So, what did I do? I do whatever everyone does when confronting the problem with Apple products: I Googled for a solution.

Here’s the solution that somewhat worked for me:

Step 1. Reduce options

Head to Preferences > General > Spotlight Search. Turn off Siri

I have a lot of out of date iOS apps I keep on my phone out of habit–and would be said to see them go like the Battle for Hoth game? Which is an amazing game since it had great replay value and, get this, it didn’t try to scam your real money for virtual coins or tokens to upgrade virtual stuff. But I digress… Go through the whole list of applications and make sure all the options are turned off.

Step 2. Hide and Show All Contacts

Contacts search results are as important as what apps are on your device. Having the iOS scan emails, phone numbers, etc. is very important. Click on Groups and choose to ‘hide all contacts’ then switch back to ‘show all contacts’.

Step 3. Do a Full Power Down Restart

If you are like me, you don’t restart your phone. It’s a smart phone and needs to be constantly working. Why would you restart it? But every once in a while, it’s good to start fresh. Jiggle the wires.

Step 4. Go back to Spotlight Search

Head back to Preferences > General > Spotlight Search. Turn on Siri Suggestions. Then only check on Contacts and a few other apps you would like to have Spotlight Search use.

These steps brought back Spotlight Search to life for me. It still has not been a 100% reliable, but it has been better than the 100% useless it was before.

I’m hoping Apple goes through and thoroughly fix the Spotlight Search “feature” as that is going to be an easier sell to their engineers than giving them the task pf breaking up iTunes and making it easier to organize apps and folders. But, who knows? Maybe they will surprise us again. Till then, Spotlight Search is working again!


  1. I’m not saying Apple should avoid fixing iTunes. It’s that I don’t see them solving a problem that’s been a decade in the making where they can still make a mountain of easy cash by making a Rose Gold robot car. 

About Christopher Schmitt

The Internet's Christopher Schmitt is an award winning designer, author, and speaker and one of the people behind the web conference team, Environments for Humans. He hosts the Non Breaking Space Show and curates the weekly UX Design Newsletter.

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