Apple’s answer to Circle to Search might not be ready until next year

As soon as Google unveiled the Circle to Search AI feature for the Galaxy S24 and Pixel 8, I said I wanted something similar on the iPhone. With AI being the main upgrade of iOS 18, I also expect Apple to offer something similar or maybe use Google’s feature.

After all, Google said in January that it plans to roll out Circle to Search to as many devices as possible, without excluding iPhones. Since then, Circle to Search has expanded to other Android devices, but not the iPhone.

Also, let’s remember that Apple now has a Visual Lookup feature in iOS that lets you identify various objects in photos. That’s a precursor to functionality like Circle to Search, which would let you perform an internet search for whatever you have displayed on the screen.

Now, a report claims that Apple is working on a system-wide Visual Search feature for the iPhone. Call it wishful thinking, but it certainly sounds like Apple’s own version of Circle to Search. Unfortunately, if this report is accurate, we might not see Visual Search on iPhone in iOS 18. We’ll have to wait until 2025 for Apple to roll out an iOS 18.x update that will enable the feature.

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Per AppleInsider, Apple is planning AI features, a native ad-blocker, and UI changes for Safari on iOS this year. Visual Search might be one of the AI additions to the iPhone, but the feature is reportedly not scheduled to be released until next year.

People familiar with the feature told the blog that Visual Search is similar to Visual Lookup. This feature is available on iPhone and iPad right now. It lets you identify plants, animals, artwork, and landmarks in the Photos app. It’s a neat trick to have if you want to search the web for stuff you might have photographed.

Using Google's Circle to Search AI feature on the Galaxy S24 Ultra.Using Google’s Circle to Search AI feature on the Galaxy S24 Ultra. Image source: Samsung

Google’s Circle to Search would let you do that. Just load the picture, invoke Circle to Search, and perform the gesture to search the web for information about whatever you circled around.

Apple Insider says Visual Search could be implemented system-wide rather than limited to the Photos app. It might be available inside Safari, where you’d perform a search using an image. It’s not identical to Circle to Search, where you perform a gesture on the screen around an object or a piece of text. But it could be equally useful.

Development of the feature is supposedly in the early stages, hence the 2025 rollout timeframe.

This isn’t the first time we have heard that Apple might be working on Visual Search for Safari. A few weeks ago, two independent sources discovered references to a mysterious Safari Browsing Assistant that Apple might bring to the iPhone via the iOS 18 update. One of them also mentioned an “encrypted visual search feature.”

Both reportedly use Private Relay to send data to Apple. This might be a way to reduce the collection of user data when cloud processing is required to power iPhone features.

I said back then that Visual Search sounds a lot like Google’s Circle to Search. Add AppleInsider’s report to the mix, and I’m even more inclined to believe that’s the case.

There’s definitely no reason for Apple to hurry with the feature. If we’re looking at a Circle to Search alternative, it should be a reliable tool. It would have to recognize objects in the photos and deliver correct results.


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