Tuesday, February 06, 2007

In search of Spotlight on the iPhone

Only a handful of people outside Apple have had the chance to hold an iPhone in their hands, so we only know about it what Apple has publicly demonstrated (or allowed some lucky journalists to see on the few working prototypes).

Almost all of the functionality that Steve Jobs showed at the keynote is being presented as a series of demo movies on Apple's iPhone page, with the same glaring omissions (e.g. Notes and Calendar are both MIA).

This indicates that the iPhone isn't ready yet. Apple hasn't commented on the iPhone's features beyond what was revealed in January, so the product is still shrouded in a great deal of secrecy. In other words, what we haven't seen is either not planned, or simply not yet ready. We just don't know.

But one thing we really should have seen (but didn't) in a lot of the demos is the famous Mac OS X search box. The box with the rounded corners and the magnifying glass icon that first appeared in iTunes user interface, and became its main selling points. The box that has become synonymous with Mac OS X itself, the box that now appears in the Finder, in Mail, and just about every self-respecting Cocoa application. The search box that is now the front door to an excellent (and much-hyped) OS X search technology: Spotlight.

And that search box ain't there on the iPhone*.

We know that iPhone runs OS X. (Not Mac OS X, mind you, but still, some OS X. Jobs made a big deal of it at the keynote, listing its advantages and features.

Conspicuously missing was Spotlight.

Is it conceivable that Apple would ship its (first version of the) iPhone without Spotlight?

If one of the most important features of iTunes has been the easy searchability of large music libraries, how can the same feature be absent from the first iPod where it would be conceivable?

Scrolling through songs and genres and albums and so on is great, and it's fun, too, with the addictive multi-touch user interface. (I haven't tried it, but I'll believe whomever says so.) Yet why not let me search, too, just like in iTunes? What if I don't know the first word of a song's title? What if I only know the last name of the singer?

Jobs seemed especially proud of the iPhone's solution for a keyboard. Why not put it to some use then?

How about contacts? The Treo has got that one thing right. Shouldn't the iPhone at least match it?

As Jobs demonstrated the official way to select contacts, I was shaking my head. Again, flicking through names is cool, but quickly selecting contacts from a list has been done, and has been done better. Way better.

Even ordinary cellphones let you type in the first few characters of a name, and narrow your often-huge contact list down to your search results. Even with the cheapest multi-tap (not to be confused with Multi-touch) Nokia phones, one can quickly find a contact this way.

And if your phone has a QWERTY keyboard, the speed increase becomes dramatic. Add a smart search functionality, like that of the Treo, and (as Jobs would say) Boom! In literally less than a second after taking your smartphone in your hand, after all you did was type a few characters from a contact's name (could be as few as three keystrokes), you're one button press away from placing a call to the person you had in mind!

Flashy graphics aside, OS X notwithstanding, and however natural scrolling feels, it's dramatically less efficient to find and select a contact on the iPhone without a search functionality.

And again, what if you only remember a first name? A company name? A job title? A city?

Doesn't it just feel wrong if the iPhone won't give you one of the coolest, most useful OS X features: the possibility to narrow down a long list based on simply entering various uncategorized search criteria? Wouldn't such search functionality be the most useful on a handheld device, notably a cellphone, which you often use in urgent situations?

Spotlight alone, if fully implemented, could make the iPhone stand out even among the geekiest of smartphones. On the other hand, without any implementation of a search functionality, the iPhone could prove to be woefully inadequate in a field with cut-throat competition.

*Google Earth does have a search box, but I haven't found one anywhere else in any iPhone demo.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Indeed, if you are an active worker and you were used to Treo, you will cry with the iPhone. It is a nice toy and has great music and a phone together but the searchability is just pathetic (cannot find even by first name when the contact is a company!!), and no way to sync and restore Todos and Notes. Selling this iPhone as a competitor to Smartphones such as Treo, Blackberry or NokiaE70 is just a fraud. Profesionals should just boycot this toy until it has a decent search, sync and todos functions.