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WWDC 14 Recap: OS X Yosemite Spotlight on Steroids

by: E. Werner Reschke | Jun 03, 2014

OS X Yosemite Spotlight

In yesterday’s Keynote Craig Federighi, aka Hair Force One, gave us a preview of OS X Yosemite. One feature he spent a few moments on was Spotlight. Spotlight is Apple’s internal search engine to help you find apps, files, contacts, etc. on your Mac. However, that will change in a significant way with OS X Yosemite.

During the show Federighi showed a slide of all the things OS X Yosemite’s Spotlight will search. With the hundreds of slides Apple uses during a Keynote it is often difficult to take in all the detail of each slide. If you can't read the list in the graphic above, here is the list of things Spotlight in OS X Yosemite will gather up for you: 

  • Applications
  • Documents
  • Contacts
  • Calendar
  • Mail
  • Messages
  • Dictionary
  • Calculator
  • System Preferences
  • Wikipedia
  • Maps
  • News
  • Bing
  • App Store
  • iTunes Store
  • iBooks Store
  • Top websites
  • Movie showtimes

The first major change to Yosemite’s Spotlight is the addition of the orange highlighted item, Wikipedia. Wikipedia is not in Apple’s eco-system. It is safe to assume Apple is working with Wikipedia so Spotlight can directly access Wikipedia’s database in order to return results through Spotlight.

However, it gets really interesting when reviewing the items highlighted in red: News, Bing, Top websites and Movie showtimes. Most, if not all of these are not within Apple’s eco-system, likely leveraging Microsoft’s Bing search engine directly to accomplish these tasks. Reflecting on the Keynote, there were a couple of references to Bing. In contrast, there were no references to Google or Google Search, except to make fun of Android’s fragmented market share. If the saying is true, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” then we can triangulate to see that during this keynote Apple is forging an alliance with Microsoft, using Bing to deal with a common enemy in Google. 

No doubt Apple’s Spotlight in OS X Yosemite puts a greater emphasis on search and modifies how results are displayed, but Spotlight doesn’t give you multitude of pages in search results. Spotlight is doing something for us we naturally do with most searches, just look at the first few items and make a decision to re-search or select one of the top choices. How often do users click the next page button of web search results because the results weren’t good enough on the first page? The answer is rarely, because search engines have matured and are very good at returning the most desired results on page one.

OS X Yosemite Spotlight Calendar Xearch

It would appear that Yosemite’s Spotlight is slowly setting the stage for Apple to deliver their own search engine. OS X Yosemite will provide the web/image/news search people do with their browsers today, but inside Spotlight. So at any time if Apple runs into a rough spot with Microsoft, they could switch to Yahoo! and only a few users would care or even notice the difference. The way in which Spotlight was designed, it will be heavily used by most Mac users. Moreover, with Apple’s search systems within the Mac, the App Store and iTunes, it is certainly not out of the question that at some point Apple will deliver its own web search engine delivered behind Spotlight’s interface.

Apple’s Marketing Genius

With all the technology genius behind the new Spotlight, the thing that makes this “Apple Genius” is how they are entering the search engine market by changing the game. If Apple were any other company, Federighi would have launched Safari and gone to an Apple web-based, search page. Federighi would have then showed how it works and maybe some cool thing it has that other engines don’t. But the problem with that approach is that no matter how good the new web-based search engine was, people would have to mentally make the change to use Apple for search instead of Google, Yahoo! or Bing. This is a very difficult thing to do, because when people are using their web browser they are somewhat tied to that choice, and the change is painful enough that people just don‘t do it. Ask the everyday person if they know how to change the default search engine in their browser and you’ll get a blank stare in return. 

Apple is not asking Mac users to go to search.apple.com when launching their web browsers for search. Instead Apple is asking people to use spotlight (command+spacebar) to do any type of search — local or remote. While others have tried this on other operating systems, Apple’s technical prowess and layout skills shine above all. Spotlight’s results do not look like web search engine results, and they aren’t overwhelming or cluttered with advertising. Apple is simply enticing Mac users to change their behavior search behavior, with very few understanding that is what is happening when they will use Yosemite Spotlight — that is genius.

With OS X Yosemite Spotlight, Apple has a real winner and it is a huge shot across the bow to Google and Google search. Many believe the search engine wars is over and Google has won. Apple just put Google on notice. The search war is actually is just beginning.

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