Spotlight and Siri’s sibling rivalry

When first introduced with Mac OS X Tiger, Spotlight offered fast and accurate file and metadata searching on the Mac.

Spotlight made the jump to the iPhone with iPhone OS 3, giving users a quick way to find apps, contacts, emails, events and music.

Today, things are messier. Spotlight is still mostly about search and Siri is still mostly about being a helpful digital assistant, but the lines are more blurred then ever.

Right below Spotlight’s text search are Siri’s “proactive” recommendations for apps and contacts.

Spotlight can open apps and search their content; Siri can open apps, but can’t see into them or control them. Both can search the web.

You can only talk to Siri, while Spotlight requires keyboard entry or dictation. Many have voiced hope that Apple will give users a way to text with Siri, which would further muddy the waters between the two services.

It feels like Spotlight has already become a subset of what Siri is. The only place the word “Spotlight” even appears on iOS is in the Settings app. Even on Apple’s own site, “Search” seems to be a part of Siri’s domain.

Google Now, Alexa and Cortana have all removed the boundaries between what information is local and what’s not. Apple’s not quite there with iOS 9, but I think iOS 10 could push it to the next level. Why maintain two services, with overlapping and somewhat confusing feature sets, when a single, unified experience could get the job done?

Siri’s brand can extend past what happens if you hold down the home button; it can encompass any digital assistant or search functionality that takes place in apps, at the OS level or on the open web.