Customizing iPhone Spotlight Search

Before I even begin this post, I want to make very clear that I know what I am about to talk about is old, old, old, old news. How do I know this? Because it has been around since June 17, 2009 and maybe even earlier.

The reason I am posting this is because this feature was JUST made aware to me yesterday and maybe not everyone is aware of it either. It is a feature I should have known about but didn’t. *hangs head in shame*

What I am referring to is the ability to customize the results of your Spotlight search (swipe toward the right on the first Home Screen on your iPhone) on your iPhone that is running 3.0 firmware or later. In my defense, I rarely use Spotlight and never bothered to even consider settings for it.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Welcome to Three Months Ago

A few weeks ago I started noticing that the Spotlight search in my iPhone was pulling up emails that were deleted many months ago. For example, I would enter Spotlight and type the letters “Mi”. Spotlight would then bring me a series of emails, among other results, with the letters “Mi” in them.

Obviously this is normal behavior until I noticed that some of the email related results were emails that I deleted back in December 2008!


In other words, Spotlight is beyond a search engine for your iPhone. It is a data recovery tool! Clearly this poses a privacy threat, as emails and notes that were deleted months ago can still be viewed in the present.

So I pull up the old email and see everything in it. When I try to delete it, it looks like it is being erased but a trip over to Spotlight indicates that the email still exists.

But there is some good news. This has been addressed as a software bug in firmware 3.0 and hopefully will be patched with the release of firmware 3.1. This now brings me to the Spotlight feature that I was introduced to only yesterday.

Customize iPhone Spotlight Search

If you grab your iPhone and navigate over to Settings > General > Home, at the bottom is a button labeled “Search Results”. Upon entering this menu, you are presented with a series of options in which you can customize the search results of Spotlight. You can specify which applications are searched and in what order the results are displayed.

Home SettingsSearch Results

Aside from being a great compliment to Spotlight, this customization option is essentially the best temporary fix to hiding long since deleted Spotlight search results. Earlier when I was giving the example of my ancient emails being found, some of those emails contained extremely sensitive data, something that I would not want to be found.

The search customization does not erase the data, but it certainly hides it. That is, until the person looking in my iPhone finds this setting and re-enables the search results, but that’s not the point here!

This customization option seems to be a great little feature, both because of the ability to modify your search results and that it acts as a temporary privacy fix to the firmware 3.0 Spotlight bug.

I thought this was pretty cool.

Did you already know about this feature or is this news to you as well? (And be HONEST!)

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