iPhone OS 3.0: Spotlight, Voice Memos, Notes

There are dozens of new features in iPhone OS 3.0. Some major. Some trivial. Some are featured at Apple's iPhone page. Others are not even mentioned. Today's column focuses on a trio of new features: Spotlight Search, Voice Memos, and Syncing Notes. I look both at how they work and how they sometimes don't work.

Spotlight Search

Spotlight Search is a great addition to the iPhone, allowing you to search virtually all the content on your iPhone, from apps to contacts to mail messages. That's why you'll want to be able to navigate to the Search screen as quickly and conveniently as possible.

There are multiple ways to get to Search, such as pressing the Home button or swiping to the right — if you are already at the main Home Screen. But how about when you are at some other Home screen page? Or in an app? For those occasions, I've set up my Home Button double-click to go to Search. To do this, go to Settings > General > Home and select "Search" as the double-click option.

iPod touch bug? While the double-click method works perfectly on my iPhone, I can't get it to work with either my first-generation or second-generation iPod touch. On these devices, a double-click always brings up the iPod controls overlay, even if no music is playing. This appears be a bug.

Mystery Mail bug? When doing a Spotlight search, results often include Mail messages that cannot otherwise be found on my iPhone. Not in any mail account. Not in any folder within any account. Despite this, I can typically open and read these messages if I tap them in Spotlight. I am certain these messages do not come from a remote mail server (something a Spotlight search can potentially check) because the messages show up even if I put the iPhone in Airplane Mode. Some of the messages are months old and long ago deleted. They are definitely not in the Trash. It's as if Spotlight is finding messages that remain intact on the Phone's drive, even though they have been permanently deleted. Others have also reported this symptom. It seems clearly a bug.

Note: No matter how well Search serves as an app finder and launcher, it is not an adequate substitute for an effective way to re-arrange apps across multiple Home screens. The incredibly awkward method now required, which hasn't changed from iPhone 2.x, really needs to be addressed. This Apple Knowledge Base article just proves my point; arranging your app icons should not require a variation on Musical Chairs.

Sync Notes

If you connect your iPhone to iTunes and click the phone's Info tab, you'll see a new option to "Sync notes." Super! For the first time since the iPhone came out, notes can now be saved to and read on a Mac, without the need for third-party software.

Where do you find the synced notes on your Mac? They're in Mac OS X's Mail app. In the left column, go to the Reminders section, expanding it if needed. You'll see a new item called Notes. Guess what you'll find listed there? Yup, your synced Notes.

And yes, syncing is bidirectional. Any changes you make to a Notes item in Mail will sync back to your iPhone. You may need to quit and relaunch Notes on your iPhone one or two times before the bidirectional syncing becomes active. But it works.

Third-party apps broken. On the downside, if you have been using a third-party program to sync your notes, it probably won't work in iPhone OS 3.0. At least until the syncing software is updated. For example, the makers of The Missing Sync report that:

"Changes in iPhone OS 3.0 affect the way notes, text messages and recent call history are stored. As a result, new notes, text messages and call history cannot be imported into SMS Log, Call Log or Mark/Space Notebook. We hope to release an update...by the end of this month."

Similarly, when I try to sync Notes from PhoneView, an error message pops up stating that PhoneView is "Unable to Download Notes."

Voice Memos

Voice Memos is a new iPhone OS 3.0 app. With it, you can record your voice and save the recording as a "voice memo." This probably spells doom for third-party apps that have a similar function, such as Recorder. For everyone else, it's a welcome addition. To start recording, simply tap Voice Memos' Record button; when done, tap again. Tap the List button (bottom right) to see your saved memos and play any of them back.

Making this app even more useful, saved memos can be synced to your Mac, where they can be played. To do this: Connect your iPhone to iTunes and go to the Music tab. Here you'll see a checkbox to "Include voice memos." Enable it. That's it.

After your next iPhone sync, your saved memos are on your Mac. Where? In a new playlist in iTunes called, not surprisingly, Voice Memos.

Note: Remembering all the varied locations where synced data are stored can get a bit much. Added to what already existed in iPhone OS 2.x, there are new locations for Voice Memos and Notes. A single listing of all synced data, and how to access each category, would be welcome. Still, once you get used to it, the existing situation is manageable.

Directional syncing bugs? According to the new iPhone User Guide: "When you sync voice memos to iTunes, they remain in the Voice Memos application until you delete them. If you delete a voice memo on iPhone, it isn’t deleted from the Voice Memos playlist in iTunes. However, if you delete a voice memo from iTunes, it is deleted from iPhone the next time you sync with iTunes."

When I tested this out, it did not work exactly as described. In particular, after deleting a voice memo from iTunes, it was not deleted from my iPhone when I synced. Although it remained on my iPhone, the iTunes-deleted message did not resync back to the Mac. Only newly added voice memos synced. In addition, one memo synced twice, so that there are two copies of it in iTunes.

At this moment, I have 4 voice separate memos on my iPhone. In iTunes, I have only three memos, two different ones and one duplicate. It's a bit of a mess with no apparent way to get everything in sync again, other than deleting all memos and starting over.

iPod touch limitations. Voice Memos does not install on a first generation iPod touch. Why? Because it has no microphone. Duh!

However, Voice Memos does install on a second generation iPod touch. It too has no microphone. Why the difference? Because the second generation touch supports working with an external microphone. If you tap to record a memo from a 2G touch, a message appears prompting you to connect a microphone, assuming you haven't already done so.

Trim and Share Memos. Two more cool Voice Memos features:

If you tap the More Info icon (>) for a saved memo, a screen appears from which you can trim the memo. If you only want to save the last 5 seconds of a 30 second memo, for example, you can easily do so.

You can also select to attach a voice memo to an email. If MMS is enabled on your phone, you can send it as a message.

[P.S. For my look at the new "Find My iPhone" feature, click here.]