Spotlight has long been a nifty, but not incredibly powerful or extendable feature of OS X. It’s done app launching, calculations, dictionary and Wikipedia, and file search, and none of these perfectly. Many power users opted to completely replace it with tools like Alfred, while others just lived with its faults.
OS X Yosemite, announced last summer, completely overhauled the universal search engine, moving it from a list cascading down the upper right hand corner with hover over previews, to a front and center panel that immediately gives information on the selected result. It also added several new sources, including currency conversion and iTunes Movie overviews, and improved overall result reliability.
Flashlight takes this new console and extends it to do almost anything. Developer Nate Parrott is constantly adding more plugins to Flashlight, and eventually intends on acting as an unofficial API developers can use.
The Future of Search?
As Apple further distances itself from Google, I expect Spotlight will advance in a way similar to Flashlight. An open search engine like Google has many advantages for when you don’t already know the site you’re looking for, and will always stay around, but for all those times you know the specific source you want to search, Flashlight is incredibly useful. What used to act as merely a calculator and app launcher has become the central hub of my digital world.
There are dozens upon dozens of sites you can directly search with commands like “yt” and “imdb” before your desired search term. It works pretty much instantly and really well. Some of these services are treated with generic terms. For example, “stock TSLA” loads a Yahoo Finance page. Questions like “what’s the population of Norway?” prompts Wolfram Alpha, and “Maps of Seattle” loads Google Maps. All of the sites in the right pane of Spotlight load their mobile versions and can be interacted with without opening a browser, which you can do by hitting return. One of my favorite features is “I’m feeling lucky”. It allows you to type “ifl maps” (or anything else) and instantly load the site it guesses, like http://maps.google.com.
Flashlight has some native and web services built into it. “Remind me to get coffee” will create a reminder in the Apple app that syncs with iCloud across your devices. “text Adrienne, hey, how about lunch in an hour?” will find a contact that matches the name Adrienne and send either an SMS or iMessage to them. There are 7 different translation plugins that work with most major languages – including pig latin. Instranslator is the most useful, accepting terms like “translate descansar from spanish to german”.
Bitcoin prices, weather, and world times are information services gathered from the internet that look and feel native to Spotlight, although there are sometimes issues with Yosemite’s dark mode.
Flashlight allows you to view a hex UI color, open any code document highlighted in Finder in either Sublime Text, Brackets, or Atom, and search several development resource sites.
It’s a beta
It’s certainly not perfect. Earlier versions executed the term “pictures of ducks” perfectly, loading Google Images. Now it seems to search Google Maps for Ducks, resulting in the infamous “Ride the Ducks” tourist attraction in Seattle. I’m not sure whether it’s Spotlight or Flashlight, but sometimes overuse can lead to Spotlight constantly crashing until you relaunch Finder. It was a bug I had in developer previews of Yosemite without Flashlight, so it could easily be Apple’s fault. That said, 95% of the time it’s surprisingly polished for beta software, and already superior to Alfred, which has been in development for years, in my opinion.