Tuesday, May 12, 2020 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Search in Messages.app

Manuel Grabowski:

iMessage is eight years old. Never once in its entire existence has search on macOS (it’s such a long time that it wasn’t even called macOS back then!) worked properly. It is so ridiculously bad, there’s actually a third-party app that provides a functioning search.

[…]

When I need to find something in my iMessages I just grab my iPhone. And let’s not forget that this option has only become viable since iOS13, before which it was just as bad on there as well.

It doesn’t work very well in iOS 13, either. Many times, I’ll type the exact text that appears in the app, and it won’t find it. So I mostly just scroll and read. A long time ago, I reverse-engineered the transcript file format for EagleFiler, so that’s how I search older messages. Unlike in Messages, the matches are highlighted, and you can select the text.

Update (2020-05-14): Nick Heer:

Second, while transcripts are named and categorized as you might expect — by chat participants and chronologically — attachments have an opaque organizational system. Third, SMS transcripts are not stored here; they only exist locally within a SQLite database. Fourth, you cannot use Quick Look to preview a transcript; and, fifth, when you open the transcript in Messages, it may be comprised of many days of discussion and will default to the most recent message, leaving you to scroll back and manually hunt for the chat in question. And, no, you cannot use ⌘-F in a chat preview window.

The search function within Messages itself is even worse. It is inaccurate, hard to use, and somehow incomplete.

See also: AAPL of Discord.

Update (2020-05-19): Noel Cornell:

The juxtaposition of Apple allowing you to store theoretically infinite amounts of messages and providing no good way whatsoever to access/review/search them will never not be ponderous for me. It’s literally impossible to recognize the value of former due to latter.

12 Comments

iMessages on MacOS is just terrible, and has been for years.

Its the reverse situation for Mail.

"Scroll and read" doesn't even work well for me. Messages jump around and get misordered or lost as they load (or don't). Links or other media make this even more fragile.

It's incredibly depressing to remember iChat, with its working search and features (like styled text) that were completely destroyed with Messages, and never recovered.

What's the reason for such bad search in Messages? It is so bad it might as well just not exist.

Has there ever been any comment on this issue from someone who works at Apple? Search is such a fundamental part of our modern communication (e.g. in Gmail) and it has been nearly perfect in so many other apps for many years. Isn't there someone who works at Apple who has tried to search for a text message (either on macOS or iOS) and been like "oh wow this doesn't work at all! We should fix it!"

Chatology isn’t a solution though, it’s a terrible app and the developers won’t fix it. The problem is that it only reads the Chat Transcript files and not the Chat.db itself. But Messages on Mac has a problem where it doesn’t consistently generate Transcript files, especially for old chats that are synced from iCloud (eg. after you set up a new Mac and restore everything). It also doesn’t reliably even show the entire message history from one person, often just showing results from the past few months of chats that have years of history. Meanwhile if I search Chat.db directly (using a 3rd party db viewer), everything is there and instantly found. If they’d rework Chatology to read and search Chat.db it’d be great — but as it is, it’s a total waste of money because they’re using unreliable Transcript files.

Sören Nils Kuklau

Isn’t there someone who works at Apple who has tried to search for a text message (either on macOS or iOS) and been like “oh wow this doesn’t work at all! We should fix it!”

It’s probably more nuanced than that.

What looks like one bug to the outside is often an entire cluster of different bugs. Some of them may not be reproducible (yet).

Either way, I just tried a search query for one word, and that seemed to produce the right result (I’m not really sure because there seems to be no highlighting?). I then added a second word that’s supposed to come right after, and… it doesn’t find the message at all, despite being right there in the source list if I cancel the query.

(Incidentally, that same search query on my iPhone succeeds!)

So, I filed it as a bug: FB7700285

Incidentally, “Recent Similar Reports” says none so far. I don’t know how that count works, though; maybe someone does that by hand? Either way, going back to the original question of “Isn’t there someone who works at Apple who has tried”: I bet. But other than Apple itself noticing this bug and prioritizing it, its customers noticing it and asking Apple to prioritize it by filing it also helps.

(Yes, this is a bit of an idealistic view in which Radar isn’t an exercise in frustration, which it often can be.)

Incidentally, “Recent Similar Reports” says none so far. I don’t know how that count works, though; maybe someone does that by hand?

Maybe whoever wrote Messages search got promoted to write Radar's.

> Isn’t there someone who works at Apple who has tried to search for a text message (either on macOS or iOS) and been like “oh wow this doesn’t work at all! We should fix it!”

Judging by the lack of feature parity between iOS and macOS and the fact that the app only really got an update for "iMessage in the cloud" in the past years I'd just say the answer is: Nobody at Apple who's in charge of assigning resources cares about the Messages.app and it's just in maintenance mode.

Maybe whoever wrote Messages search got promoted to write Radar’s.

I can neither confirm nor deny that this is my new full-time position.

Judging by the lack of feature parity between iOS and macOS and the fact that the app only really got an update for “iMessage in the cloud” in the past years

I think that just comes down to them preparing to rewrite Messages (or portions of it?) in Catalyst.

There’s evidence that such a rewrite is underway. So it’s possible that they’re waiting for that to finish, and then many features will automatically have parity.

> I think that just comes down to them preparing to rewrite Messages (or portions of it?) in Catalyst.

That is a scary thought looking at the existing Catalyst apps...

[…] Messages should have feature parity with its iOS counterpart, and improved search […]

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