Apple's Spotlight gets natural language search

Spotlight's new skill "lets you compose your searches in your own words," said Apple VP Craig Federighi.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
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Apple senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi introduces Mac OS X "El Capitan." James Martin/CNET

Apple announced Monday that its Spotlight search feature will now be able to interpret natural language speech on its desktop computers. The new feature comes along with a host of other updates to the company's new Mac operating system, Mac OS X, 10.11, called "El Capitan."

Search in Spotlight has been tuned up to let users ask it about the weather, for example, or find stock prices and sports scores. The company also enhanced search functions in apps like email, where users can easily find messages they hadn't yet responded to.

Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan: A first look at the next Mac operating system (pictures)

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Spotlight now "lets you compose your searches in your own words," said Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, during the company's annual Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco on Monday.

While Apple is probably best-known for its hardware -- slickly designed products such as the iPhone, iPad and MacBook -- just as important are the experiences on those devices. It's critical that Apple make a strong impression at WWDC with the next version of its operating systems. The company's ability to control every aspect of its products -- something that began when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple in 1976 -- has been a key ingredient for creating the tech juggernaut.

Apple's new El Capitan software follows an established trend of bringing successful features originally designed for Apple's mobile devices to its desktops and laptops. Last year, the company overhauled the way its desktop software acts and looks in an attempt to make it similar to the iOS software that powers iPhones and iPads

The move toward natural speech search for Apple's operating system follows Google Now and Microsoft's Cortana, which also have natural language search capabilities. The idea is for computers to be able to understand our natural language and respond in kind.

Along with natural language speech for Spotlight, Apple also announced a bevy of other new features with its El Capitan operating system. For instance, two apps can now run on the screen at once with a function called "split view," and apps start faster.

Check here for all of today's Apple WWDC news.