Narrowing the cause of the iOS Spotlight bug

Preamble: This isn’t a usable solution.

It does work  100% of the time for me, and it is quick, the trouble is the bug typically reappears so soon afterwards it’s not worth the effort if you have to go through this procedure every time you want to use Spotlight.

Normally, I’d only write about bugs I’ve found how to fix. I’m choosing to write about this one primarily to save you wasting your time on other workarounds that won’t help.

The bug: A common iOS 8/9 problem is that Spotlight search suddenly stops —permanently or intermittently — returning any results.  You type in a query and wait (or press Search) and nothing happens; the screen is completely blank.

This is frustrating because when it does work, Spotlight is an extremely time-saving feature, but when it doesn’t you’ve actually wasted your time.

Old fixes (limited success):

  • Reboot (always works but only for a short time)
  • Send an email to yourself (once worked for me, usually doesn’t)
  • Toggle various (or even all) apps on/off in Settings > General > Spotlight Search (very time consuming – you could easily have over 100 apps installed, no guarantee of success)

New fix (100% success so far):

  • Force close every single app.

i.e. double-press Home button, then move through all your apps, swiping up on each.  It won’t take very long. Faster than restarting. Now try a search and it should work straight away.  Losing the history isn’t a great disadvantage; typically, people will only swipe to the last few apps they’ve opened.

Unfortunately, it only takes opening one or two apps for it to break again.  Sometimes opening tabs in Safari trigger it, and terminating that alone will work, often it’s another app or apps.  Quite hard to guess which in my experience.

Speculation as to cause:

  • The good news is this seems to rule out the possibility  Spotlight’s search index has become corrupted. (I wouldn’t waste your time reinstalling / resetting your device.)
  • It feels like it’s a memory issue.  I’m using this on an iPhone with 1GB of RAM. I’d be very interested if you’re using a more recent phone with increased RAM and have/haven’t seen it.  (Note I’ve never experienced it on an iPad.)

I will file another bug report with Apple but I’m not very optimistic given people started seeing this in iOS 8.