8 El Capitan Spotlight search tips you need

If you’re a Mac user who knows the Command & Spacebar summons Spotlight trick, or even if you don’t, then you’ll want to learn these search tips.

Spotlight indexing always eats up processor power for a few hours when you install a new version of OS X, but at least in El Capitan it’s for good reason, as these cunning search tips hopefully show.

Get natural

Perhaps the best improvement in Spotlight on OS X El Capitan is support for natural language search. This means you can ask for things like, “what’s the weather tomorrow?”, “documents created in July” or “images I opened last Tuesday” to get the results you need.

spotlight 4 Appleholic


El Capitan lets you move and resize the Spotlight window anywhere you like on your screen. That’s good at the time but there’s a snag, once you move the window it will reappear where it last was, which isn’t always useful. No worries, you can return the window to its default location by clicking and holding the Spotlight icon (the magnifying glass) at the top right of the menu bar.

Weather & Sports

Apple’s baked weather information into Spotlight. Now if you need to know what the weather’s like in Lisbon, Portugal, you can simply use the phrase “weather in Lisbon, Portugal” and you’ll see current weather and a forecast.

spotlight3 Appleholic

Sports scores are the same, just use natural language search terms like “[team name] score” or “[team one] [team two] game score” and the scores (or schedules) will appear in Spotlight.

Web video

Web video search is another new feature and it’s so easy to use (just so long as you know the name of the video). All you need to do is pop the video name or other search details into spotlight and add the word “video” at the end to get the results you require.

Stocks and shares

Given so few people actually own stocks and shares it amuses me that so much is made of these stock market trackers, but if you do happen to own any then you can pop your stock ticker symbols, or phrases like “Apple stock price” or “Nasdaq price” to stay up-to-date with market activity as reported by Yahoo Finance.

spotlight2 Appleholic


Did you know that any item on Spotlight’s results list can be click-&-dragged to a Dock icon in order to open it in that application? Or that entries can be dragged from the results screen to the desktop or an open Finder window to create a copy? (You can also select the result and use Command & C to copy the file or folder to paste elsewhere). This one’s not new to El Capitan but perhaps not as widely known as it could be.

Missing talents

Despite the improvements some people have complained that not all the new Spotlight features seem to be available to them. If that’s you, then try launching Spotlight Settings and turning apps off and then back on again as this sometimes jogs its memory.

Spotlight keyboard shortcuts rock!

For example:

  • Hold down the Option key to see the location of the currently selected item as text at the bottom right of the Spotlight results window.
  • Cmd+R or Cmd+Enter will show the currently highlighted result’s location in Finder, or launch an appropriate app.
  • Cmd+L skips directly to the dictionary definition search result.
  • Cmd+B: Search for the term in the default browser, using whatever search engine is selected as default too.
  • Typed the wrong search term? Cmd+Backspace will instantly erase it.

Also read

The great thing about Apple’s iterative OS upgrades is that while some features do disappear or get replaced, most do not, so please take a look at this earlier collection of Spotlight power user tips.

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Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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