iOS 7 wants: Siri access via Spotlight

Siri and Spotlight need a love child

Apple greatly expanded Siri in iOS 6, adding a host of new features including sports, movies, and dining results, far better language support, and even an Eyes Free driving mode for when hands-free usage is paramount.

But what about Voice Free? Having a conversation with your iPhone or (soon) iPad is something straight out of science fiction. But voice isn't always the best or most appropriate way to query data, and sometimes it's not even possible.

Siri's servers aren't always quick or even available, and waiting a minute for Dictation's purple balls to time out and provide no text input can be beyond frustrating. For some power users already engaged in entering text, switching from typing to voice entry can also be sub-optimal.

Apple could address all of these problems by allowing text queries into Siri via the existing Spotlight interface.

Any question you could ask Siri could just as easily be typed. "Weather?" "Directions to Cupertino?" "Send text to bob I'll be late" "Meaning of life?"

If Spotlight could access Siri's contextually aware response engine, the same great results could be delivered back, using the same great widget system that already has buttons to touch-confirm or cancel, etc.

Spotlight on Mac does far more than Spotlight on iOS. If there's any fear this couldn't be done on mobile, Just Type on webOS has been doing basic actions since version 2.0 back in March of 2011.

Instead of a static search section that only includes Google, Google Maps, Wikipedia and Twitter, a new search section called "LAUNCH & SEARCH" has been created (see example above). This is now a customizable search list that will allow you to search within any website that participates in the Open Search protocol, any apps that register themselves as "Just Type" searchable, and even the App Catalog. So, instead of launching Foursquare, waiting for a list of venues to load up, typing in your search criteria for a venue and then waiting for that list to populate, you can just type in the venue name in Just Type, hit the Foursquare search link, and it will open up to an already-searched listing.

"Quick Actions" are another new feature of Just Type that allow you to send text directly to an app to perform any number of actions, such as creating a new email, SMS or tweet, updating your Facebook status, or even creating a new calendar event. Just type in your text, press the action you want to perform, and the app will open up with your text pre-populated in the necessary sections. As an example, to update your Facebook status, just type in your status to Just Type, tap the Facebook action, the Facebook app will be launched with your status right there, and all you need to do is press "Post"

You are also now able to search for data within specific applications, right from just type. Currently, only Email and the Web Browser are available as searchable apps, but this allows you to search for any email that has already been downloaded on your phone (sadly, while sub folders are included here, they are still not automatically synced in webOS 2.0), or search through your web browser's bookmarks or history, all without loading up those respective apps.

Apps like Launch Center are great for quickly initiating actions (rather than apps). Tapping through is different than typing into, however. The former is lightning quick for set actions. The latter is adaptible for the moment. Like voice, tapping and typing all have their place and value.

And haultiple points of entry to consistent content doesn't increase complexity -- it increases accessibility.

iOS 6 is already in beta, so this type of functionality would no doubt have to wait for iOS 6.1 or iOS 7, but for anyone who's used Alfred or Quicksilver, or Just Type or any other kind of keyboard launcher, it would be a fantastically productive front-end alternative.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 25 comments. Add yours.

Martin says:

Oh yes, I do miss webOS, I do miss webOS......

CriskoBrown says:

Indeed!!! webOS will always be my favorite operating system

Morris says:

I don't agree with this whatsoever. The whole point of voice is it's quick and easy. Who wants to sit there and type send text to so and so that this and that when I can just open the texting app and do it from there?? Nice article but I sorely do not agree

MattyFresh says:

+1 Siri sucks if there putting all there eggs in the Siri basket apple is in trouble

kch50428 says:

Yeah sure... talk to your phone whilst in a public restroom stall to ask Siri to do a search, or whatever.... there are times & places talking to Siri is just plain wrong. An option to use text, manually makes so much sense that they won't do it... :D

chris.lenderman says:

Well seeing that I live in a city of 8.5 million, almost never outside direct earshot of a complete stranger...Siri in its current form serves no purpose for me. If I could input my queries as text, if would be MUCH more usable.

ichorus says:

Totally agree Rene, see when I want to use Siri at work I don't want to have to talk to my phone. Like the new movies feature and sports. Or local companies. This would be great.

ModeratorOMD says:

But wouldn't that slow down the existing search? I mean this is a good idea, but I think typing within Siri is a better idea if you want to do that.
But I won't be typing questions to Siri when I could just Google it. Siri has to be 100x smarter if anyone is going to spend time texting to it.

ModeratorOMD says:

Also, you can already text to Siri, but that's only after you've talked to it. So technically this idea is actually not all that good.
Texting is unsuitable in its current form to text to. It's just wasting time! XD lol
Speech is wayyyy faster. Even with the waiting it's still faster.

Mike Spiers says:

... But you guys have to understand where Rene is coming from with this - its not just whether it makes for a better user experience; it's more to do with what this scenario would mean to the big search engines like Google...
This scenario would cut them out of your personal information, reducing their ability to aggregate and sell advertisements. A win for Apple regardless on whether they sell it; Google makes less money from iOS.

FlopTech says:

Apple is preparing for the mid- and long-term. Sure, they're raking it in from massive hardware margins right now. But hardware prices come down over time, and eventually (we're talking 10 or 20 years) Apple will need to ramp up their revenue from content and services.
And, unfortunately, Apple will likely need to ramp their revenue from ads as well. They may already be taking steps toward an ecosystem-revenue based model. With Siri queries simultaneously adding to Apple's customer insight and gradually replacing legacy web-search engines like Google's for many simple tasks.

SockRolid says:

Re: "But voice isn't always the best or most appropriate way to query data, and sometimes it's not even possible."
Agree. And yes, Apple could eventually combine Spotlight and Siri (and several other technologies they've been working on for years, like Genius recommendations.) Sometimes silence really is golden. And sometimes typing is actually faster than talking.
As for Prometheus (no spoilers) we think it was marred by the two things we feared the most. 1. Over-explanation, and 2. pervasive illogic.

CrzyP says:

I like this idea. I might actually use spotlight if it had this. Too bad Apple doesn't make people's dreams come true.

Paul Maynard says:

I think it's a GREAT idea.
It only adds functionality.

Ih8censorship says:

Ha ha. That older comment thread from today inspired this. That's hilarious.

Luis Reyes says:

I get what the author says but this seems based on two things: it's good to text your input sometimes, when u can't talk. It is good to be able to text to get answer from Siri. Taking that from her (it) is like going back to 'googling'.
Well, if you cant talk, you should not put a voice assistant to work, and you certainly don't want siri talking either; maybe you should write your query in google, which would get the same results.
And why would I need to text your answers from Spotlight? When you can already text them from Siri, via editing your previous inputs.
Bring Dr. No! :)

MrKino says:

Yes, Siri MUST admit also query by text. If you're on a business meeting and you need an immediate information, you can't ask Siri by voice... having a textual interface will be certainly useful.

MSalman says:

why to replace Siri's current interface and integrate it with Spotlight?!! if the users are in actual need for a way to text Siri rather than talking to, then a new option should be added (a new button) along with Siri's voice activation button, which should slide in a text box once the user tap it. and can still able to dismiss the text box and return to the voice by tapping the voice button.
Making Siri only accessible by text is a very bad idea and limits it's ease of use. but adding the ability for users to use text is also great but it must not replace voice.

Joe says:

This seems almost like a no-brainier, that is also very practical. However, when searching via Spotlight, Siri would have to deliver results silently for it to truly solve the stated problem.

Sam Adams says:

I haven't used Spotlight since 2009, but if I had a 4S I would totally use a Siri-style spotlight with smart queries like Spotlight on Mac.

Kasandra Javed says:

Frank you sound like a nice guy...but if you knew me, you will know I am not a hater....I just like to give some of these Miami fans a hard time and enjoy poking fun at their third rate teams.......

Luci Roya says:

What is the gateway for Claro (old Puerto Rico Tel Co.) in Puerto Rico (part of the United States)?

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MooPenguin32 says:

I think that's a great idea! This would actually make Spotlight useful for me as I don't currently use it.

Josh1378348 says:

Wow your an idiot, you can already type to Siri you just click on the text she understands that u spoke to her and you can type in what ever you want and she will act as if you said that. Check your facts before writing such a stupid article