Google and Spotlight search are two of the best time-saving tools on your Android or iOS device. And yet it’s easy to forget about the little Google search box on the home screen. Spotlight search on the iPhone and iPad fares worse, given that it’s completely hidden until you give your home screen a downward tug.
With a few taps on Google and Spotlight search, you can launch apps without opening the Application drawer or digging into home-screen folders. You can play music without opening the Music app first. You can call a contact, search for movie rentals in iTunes, check the weather, or even track a flight, all in one easy stop. And yes, you can search the web, too. Read on for 9 great time-saving Google and Spotlight search tips.
Note: For most of the following search tricks, Android relies on Google Now, a “digital assistant” that can do things like suggest nearby restaurants, calculate how long your commute will take, and display recent scores for your favorite teams. As long as you have the most recent version of the Google search app installed on your Android device, you’ve probably got Google Now up and running.
Launch an app
Having multiple home screens and as many app folders as we want sure sounded like a good idea at the time—that is, until we had so many home screens and folders that finding the app we wanted to launch became like finding a needle in a haystack.
But with Google and Spotlight search on the case, you won’t need to hunt and peck for the specific app you want to open.
Instead, just head for Google or Spotlight and start tapping the name of an app—and within a few letters, the app’s icon should appear just below the search box.
Tap the icon, and boom—the app will open, no extra taps or swipes required.
Pull up a contact
Need to call, text, or email a friend, colleague or loved one? Your first instinct may be to launch Android’s People app or Contacts on iOS, but there’s a better, faster way.
Just type the name of the contact you want to reach into the Google or Spotlight search box—and again, within a few letters or so, the name of your contact should appear.
Play some music or videos
Most likely, your first step when you want to play some songs or an album on your iPhone, iPad or Android device is probably to launch either the Music or Play Music app. And again, there’s an easier way (particularly when it comes to iOS’s increasingly confounding Music app).
Tap or open Google or Spotlight search, then start typing the name of a song, album, an artist—or, if you’re in the mood, a purchased TV show or movie—and matching music tracks will appear just below the search box.
Tap a tune, and let the music (or the movie) play.
Map an address
There’s a quicker way to find where you’re going than opening up Google or Apple Maps. Instead, just type any address into Google or Spotlight search.
With Google Now on the Android side, a map will be displayed right on your home screen.
For iOS, you’ll see a list of mapping results; tap one to jump directly to Apple Maps.
Search the web
Sure, you can search the web using the Google search box on an Android phone, but did you know you could do so with iOS’s Spotlight search, too?
Go ahead, try it: Your web search results will appear just below the Spotlight search box, saving you the step of opening Safari first.
And as bonus, Spotlight will display any relevant Wikipedia hits just above your web results.
Check the weather (Android only)
Will you need an umbrella today? Just tap “weather” into the Google search box for a summary of the local weather. complete with the current temperature and a five-day forecast.
Oh, and here’s a neat trick: See the slider just below the temperature? Slide it forward to 1 p.m., 6 p.m., or later for an hourly forecast of the current day, or any day you select in the five-day forecast.
Search for mail messages (iOS only)
Trying to find a specific email message in your inbox? Well, you can tap on the Mail app in iOS, go to the All Mailboxes directory, drag down to reveal the search box, then tap in your search—or you can chop most of those steps and try this instead.
Just tug down on your home screen to open Spotlight search, then tap in some search terms—anything from the name of the sender to the subject of the message, some key words in the body, anything.
If any messages in your inbox match your search terms, they’ll appear just below the Spotlight search box. Tap a message to open it in the Mail app.
Create a reminder for yourself (Android only)
Would you rather tie a string on your finger than jump through all the necessary hoops to set up a reminder on your Android phone? Here’s a super-easy alternative.
Go to the home-screen Google search box and type something along the lines of, “Remind me to pick up lettuce at the grocery store.”
When you do, Android will set up a reminder for you, complete with a title (“Buy lettuce”) and blanks for a time and/on place—meaning, for example, you can set your Android device to trigger the reminder the next time you’re near a grocery store.
Search for a movie rental or TV show (iOS only)
When you’re ready to rent “Gravity,” “American Hustle,” or another Hollywood blockbuster from the iTunes store, there’s no need to swipe and tap on the iTunes app.
Just open Spotlight and type the name of the movie or TV show you want to find on iTunes, and a search result will appear once you’ve tapped a few keys. And yes—this trick works for songs and books on iTunes, too.
Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices. You can follow Ben on Twitter.