Data Detectors and Look Up

You can create contacts, set up calendar events, and get intel on pieces of text in incoming email, web pages and other documents using Data Detectors and Look Up. This feature of macOS will figure out what information represents, such as a location or appointment time, or business name or person, and allow you to act on it.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Data Detectors and Look Up.

When you're looking at an email that you've received in the Mail app on your Mac you may sometimes notice that as you move your cursor around that a dotted rectangle appears around some text and you get a little button at the bottom right hand corner. It appears at various places. So what are these? These are called Data Detectors. They've detected a piece of data that can be useful in some way and are going to give you options to be able to handle it.

So in this email we have a whole bunch of them. For instance the biggest one here is this bit of contact info at the bottom. If I click here I get a bunch of options. One is Add to Contacts and it gives me this entire contact here. Just like it's already created. But it hasn't actually created it yet. I can click Add to Contacts and I can see it's going to fill in a name, company name, fill in a phone number. It's going to fill in an email address and it's going to fill in a homepage and work address there. That's all from this bit of data. It figures it all out. Also I've got Open in Maps because there's an address there. So this is really handy. It's a quick way to add to your contacts.

But there are other things here as well. For instance here just the address. I can click here and it will just Open in Maps or add just the address to contacts. The phone number allows me to Add to Contacts, go right to the Messages app and send a text message there, or bring up large type. So if I'm about to make a phone call I can see the phone number nice and clearly. The date here, I can click on that, and it's going to bring up a little thing where I can add to the calendar. So it's looks like a calendar appointment but it hasn't actually been created yet. I have to hit Add to Calendar to do it or I can hit Details and actually go in and add more things.

So these are all called Data Detectors and there are more of them here. So here's another date that says tomorrow afternoon. So if I click on that here, Upcoming Appointment, you can see it's taking the title from the name of the email. Then it grabs the address and it grabs a time. It just says tomorrow afternoon so it's going to give me kind of a start time of 3 P.M. and I can alter that.

There's some other things you don't see here. For instance the name of this company here I can Control click on that and it will allow me to look it up. So I get information. I get intel of what I'm seeing. There's all sorts of stuff. Obviously if it's just a word then it's going to look it up and give me a dictionary definition. But if it's the name of a company or the name of a person, I may get all sorts of other information as well. It's going to look it up from a variety of sources using Spotlight. So whatever you have setup in Spotlight is what it's going to use.

You can customize all of this. So you can go to System Preferences and I'm going to go into Trackpad since I'm using a Trackpad. I've got Look Up & Data Detectors setup. You have two options. Force click with one finger or Tap with three fingers. You're going to see different options depending upon which input device you're using. I'm using Apple's Trackpad. So I can do this with a Force click with one finger. Let's see how it works here. I'm going to hover over the name of the company. I'm going to force click and it instantly brings it up. I didn't have to go through a couple of steps. The same thing with all of this. Just force click and it brings up all that stuff. I don't have to find that little button and use it.

So this works in a few other situations as well. For instance if there's a tracking number or something that looks like a UPS tracking number or FedEx tracking number that will be a data detector as well. You can track that package. Also if there's something that looks like a flight number. You know United Airlines flight whatever or UA and a couple digits it will allow you then to instantly track that flight. So data detectors work in a variety of situations.

It even works in other apps. Like, for instance, in Safari you don't get the nice little boxes around things because that would interrupt the style of the page but you can still select things. I can Control click and do a Look Up but I can also do my shortcut now that I have that setup on my Trackpad. You can see it's going to bring up information mostly from Wikipedia about whatever it is I've selected. Addresses. It will allow me to do Maps. You can get information about things. So for instance there's names here. Click on that and this comes right up. So this isn't built into the webpage. This is something that actually is being done using Data Detectors and Look Up on your Mac.

Comments: 4 Responses to “Data Detectors and Look Up”

    2 months ago

    These Look Ups are real neat and I have used them in the past to look up word definitions. When adding to the Calendar there is an option to add to the different Calendars in the app. When adding to Contacts I don’t see any way to add the new Card to any particular Contacts Group in the Contacts app. Another feature in macOS that needs to be added. If they can do this for Calendar why not Contacts?

    2 months ago

    My experience with data detectors on address signatures in Mail is very inconsistent.

    Often it will not pick up the company name or a business title and often it will add my email address to the new made Contact. Wish Tim Cook would concentrate on improving the lackluster Contacts program instead of promoting his cause dejure.

    Riley Willcox
    2 months ago

    I am using an Apple Smart mouse. Is there a way to do short cuts that you demonstrated with your trackpad?

    2 months ago

    Riley: Well, you can always secondary-click on things with the Apple mouse. Check in System Preferences.

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