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Spotlight Secrets: 15 Ways to Use Spotlight on Your Mac

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Spotlight Secrets: 15 Ways to Use Spotlight on Your Mac

Spotlight came to the Mac in 2005, primarily as a revamped means of searching your files. Its features have expanded since then – and chances are you aren’t aware of everything Spotlight can do.

This guide showcases 15 things you can use Spotlight for on your Mac. First, though, a brief refresher on how Spotlight works.

Get started with Spotlight

Click the Spotlight icon in the menu bar, or use the shortcut Cmd+Space. The Spotlight window will appear.

How to get started with Spotlight

Start typing and matching results appear, updating as you adjust your search term. Click any single result to select it, or use the up/down arrow keys to navigate the results list. Cmd+up/down arrow jumps the selection between categories. The categories that are shown can be managed in System Preferences > Spotlight.

Return opens the current selection in the most appropriate app. Select Show all in Finder… for a complete list of matching results, and also to begin construction of a smart folder based on your search. Escape clears the search field.

The Spotlight window itself can be dragged to reposition it, and lengthened by dragging its top or bottom edge. A long click on the menu bar icon resets these attributes.

Now for what you can do when the Spotlight window is open — here are 15 ways to use Spotlight on your Mac.

1. Launch apps

How to launch apps with Spotlight

Typically, apps are the first thing Spotlight displays (under Top Hits), selecting one by default. So to open (or bring to the front) Safari, press Cmd+Space, type SA, and then hit Return. Infuse that into your muscle memory, and you’ll greatly speed up app launching. You can get at specific System Preferences panes similarly rapidly.

2. Search by keyword

How to search by keyword with Spotlight

Anything accessible to your Mac can be quickly found using Spotlight (unless a volume’s been marked as private in System Preferences > Spotlight), but this can make for cluttered results. You can focus on specifics by using the likes of kind: and date: when searching, the latter of which accepts ranges.

3. Search using natural language

Search Spotlight using natural language

If you like computing to be a bit more human, experiment with natural-language searches. Spotlight understands the likes of Presentations from last week, Emails from Derek, or Apps from last month (to list recently installed apps). A file can be dragged to another app from the Spotlight window. Alternatively, hold Cmd to see its current location.

4. View contact details

how to view contact details with Spotlight

If you need to quickly check someone’s phone number or address, use Spotlight rather than opening up Contacts. Type and select a name to see phone numbers, email addresses, and so on. Details can be selected and copied to paste elsewhere, or clicked to trigger an action, such as starting a phone call.

5. Find calendar events

how to find calendar events with Spotlight

Similarly, you needn’t open Calendar to get at the details of an upcoming event. Type the name of an event or reminder, and select it. You’ll see the information that exists in Calendar, including added links that when clicked open in Safari.

6. Access dictionary definitions

Access dictionary definitions with Spotlight

Spotlight won’t help you on your spelling, unlike Dictionary, which can correct misspellings like ‘expresion’ to ‘expression’. But type define followed by a word – or type a word and then use the shortcut Cmd+L – and you’ll be able to read its dictionary definition, without opening the Dictionary app.

7. Make calculations

How to make calculations using Spotlight

Rather than fishing around for a calculator – real or app-based – do your sums in Spotlight. When the answer appears, Cmd+C copies it to the clipboard. Spotlight can also perform conversions. Type 86F and you’ll discover that’s 30°C (and 303.5 kelvins). Weights and distances are dealt with similarly efficiently.

8. Get the weather

How to get the weather using Spotlight

Type weather and Spotlight will display your local conditions, a prediction for the coming six hours, and an outlook for the next ten days. (Note the weather result item may take a few seconds to appear.) If the weather’s horrible where you are, add a location to your search term, and then daydream about the sun shining elsewhere on the planet.

9. Check out sports scores

How to check out sports teams using Spotlight

If you follow a major sport – or team – use Spotlight to find out how everyone’s doing. Terms like NFL scores or Lakers schedule respectively return recent scores and upcoming matches. Sometimes, typing a location is enough – Manchester by default often brings up Manchester United’s page. (Sorry, City fans.)

10. Peruse stocks

How to get stock updates using Spotlight

If you hold shares and want to see how things are going, type the stock’s ticker symbol (for example, AAPL for Apple). Spotlight will give you all the gory details in graph and numerical form, along with a link to Yahoo Finance.

11. Calculate exchange rates

How to calculate exchange rates using Spotlight

Type a currency value you’d like converted, using currency symbols or abbreviations – $100 or 100USD (without a space) will do. Spotlight will instantly convert it to several other major currencies. For a specific conversion, use the form nnXXX to YYY, such as 53EUR to USD (or €53 to $ if you prefer using symbols for currencies that have them).

12. Watch flight progress

How to watch flight progress with Spotlight

You’ll usually need the specific flight number to get anything out of Spotlight’s flight tracker. But punch one in, select the flight in the Flights category, and you’ll see a live map, gate information, departure and arrival times, and even the status of baggage reclaim, if known.

13. Listen to music

How to listen to music using Spotlight

You can search for online video using Spotlight, but the user experience is poor, and so you’re better off heading to YouTube. For music, though, Spotlight can be handy. Type in an album or song title, and you can listen to iTunes previews – just hover over a track’s name and click the play button.

14. Find local movie showtimes

Find local movie showtimes using Spotlight

Type showtimes and select Now Showing in Theaters (Cinemas in some locations) for an idea of what’s on. Type the name of a movie and Spotlight will list nearby locations where you can see it, along with showtimes. You’ll also get trailer links, a rating, and a ‘helpful’ iTunes pre-order link, if one exists.

15. Get directions

How to get driving directions using Spotlight

Apple Maps isn’t entirely robust regarding points of interest searches, but major businesses are generally easily found. Type Apple Store as a search term, and local branches will be listed under the Maps header. Brands are a good bet for other POIs – try Starbucks rather than coffee house, for example, when you need some caffeine.

How often do you use Spotlight on your Mac? Know of a nifty Spotlight trick we didn’t mention? Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below!

About Craig Grannell

Craig Grannell is a technology writer, mostly specialising in Macs, iOS, apps, and games. He’s been immersed in all things Apple for over 20 years, and enamoured with computers since getting his hands on a VIC-20 as a kid. He also has a Korg Gadget addiction. Send help. Or alternatively, visit his website,, and follow him on Twitter at @craiggrannell. View all posts by Craig Grannell →