Apple adds Image Search to Spotlight in iOS 15
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Apple has declared a priceless upgrade to its Spotlight search function, the original feature created to perform system-wide searches within both iOS or iPadOS devices and MacBooks. (In case you weren't sure, Spotlight is the search bar that opens up when you swipe down from any home screen on your iPhone or iPad.)
At the WWDC event livestreamed on June 7, Apple announced that Spotlight will finally be able to perform smart photo searches, leveraging artificial intelligence technology to scan the contents of your image gallery, and find any photo you want in seconds.
The days of scrolling endlessly through your camera roll are over
With smartphones reaching enormous storage capacities these days, with many variants offered in 512GB—and iCloud Photos offering essentially limitless photo storage—most of us have years' worth of memories contained in these tiny devices we call iPhones.
At some point, it becomes nearly impossible to find a photo we want on our own, without plenty of scrolling and wasted time. This certainly gets rather frustrating at times, as it can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. Spotlight Image Search hopes to change that, once and for all.
Spotlight Image Search leverages Visual Look Up
This awesome new feature will work in tandem with Apple's new Visual Look Up ability, which was also announced on June 7. Visual Lookup seems to perform the same function as Google Lens on Android—which is to be able to recognize and look up objects inside an image or photo—but Apple's variant appears to be in its earlier stages of development, and not as versatile as its counterpart just yet.
Thanks to this AI-powered technology by Apple, you will now be able to search for a photo in your library by simply using keywords for objects you remember were included in the image, or people who were with you, or even the scene of the event.
Unsurprisingly, you will also be able to look up a saved image using the geographical location in which it was taken.
Note: If you aren't satisfied with the pilot version of Visual Look Up, you can always download Google Lens to your iOS device directly through the App Store. You won't be able to use it for image searches through Spotlight, however.
...and Live Text
Live Text is another iOS 15 software addition featured here, and it's a gamechanger when it comes to the new Spotlight Image Search. This is what allows Apple, using artificial intelligence, to recognize text anywhere in the foreground or background in a photo.
As its own separate feature, Live Text is a special addition to Apple's Camera and Photos app (allowing you to isolate and copy, paste, look up, or translate text directly from an image). But as part of Spotlight Image Search, it introduces the ability to find a photo simply by looking up a word from the photo or screenshot in question.
I know I often take screenshots or quick snaps of recipes, hand-scribbled notes, or phone numbers I want to save and review at a later time—only to promptly lose them in the chaos of my ever-expanding image gallery.
With Spotlight Image Search supporting Live Text searches, you will be able to find your photos using any phrase found inside the photographed text.
For example, if you know you snapped a pic of that incredible German cake recipe that you just can't remember the name of, but only know that it used four eggs, you can search "4 eggs," and Spotlight will immediately find the photo of the recipe (as long as it indeed lists "4 eggs"). How great is that?
Other New Spotlight Features: Instant Contact Discovery
Apart from easily looking up photos, Spotlight in iOS 15 will also be able to pull up contacts for you through the search bar.
When you type in a friend's name into Spotlight, you will instantly be shown a row options allowing you to message, call, video call, e-mail, or pay that person. Below, an Apple Maps widget appears to show your friend's current location—as long as they've already shared it with you through Find My, of course.
Underneath that, Spotlight intelligently compiles and displays categories of anything you may have exchanged with that person in that past. This includes shared links, messages, photos, mutual calendar events, and e-mails.
Look Up Actors, Musicians, TV Shows, Movies in Spotlight
Apple is apparently also getting with the times with iOS 15, and can fill you in on plenty of pop culture phenomena by a quick search typed up into—you guessed it—Spotlight.
As the final upcoming addition to Spotlight, Apple has integrated the ability to look up and browse tidily compiled profiles on actors and musicians, as well as TV shows and movies.
As you can see in the photo below, the results pull up brief and concise bios including important information such as birth and death dates (for celebrities), and a short "About" paragraph which can be expanded for a more detailed overview.