Here's why DuckDuckGo works great in iPhone's Safari

It's not just privacy–DuckDuckGo is a really handy search engine on a tiny screen

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You can search anything on DuckDuckGo and get good answers.

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Here's a little asterisk, a footnote, a grace note you might have missed in Apple's unveiling of iOS 8 at its annual developers' conference earlier this week: iOS and OS X devices can now switch to DuckDuckGo as their default search engine in the Safari browser. That's really helpful, but for far more than the privacy reasons you might have heard or read.

Sure enough, a friend who jumped into the first iOS 8 beta (with a $99 developer account) showed me the setting for DuckDuckGo (DDG) on his iPhone on Monday night. Things in beta releases of Apple systems have disappeared before, but Apple is promoting DDG as a "New feature to protect your privacy", and DDG posted on its official blog about its Apple inclusion. It seems like DDG is coming to iPhones and iPads.

DuckDuckGo's marketing message these days is focused around privacy, which makes sense. DuckDuckGo does not "collect or share personal information,", and it does not track users. With everything we have learned about our actual privacy and exposure in the hands of Google, startup apps, social networks, the NSA, and supposedly secure web tools, a site that says, basically, "We don't care what your do or track it" has a good pitch.

But don't lose sight of another reason to try out DuckDuckGo on your iPhone or iPad: it is a really smart search engine that wants to save you time. It has a few features that can save you a few steps, give you instant answers to fare more searches and questions than Google, and allows you customize how it looks, acts, and operates, if you want to get into the details.

The shortlist of nifty things DuckDuckGo will do for you:

Instant answers to a remarkable range of questions

Type in "White House Black Market coupons" into Google, and you get a standard page of Google results. Type that into DuckDuckGo, and you see direct links to coupon codes and URLs, provided by Coupon Mountain and listed in a box right at the top of the results.

More useful than clothing coupons: Simpsons character indexes.

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Google has its own instant answers to certain questions, implemented by the Google team with the cooperation of select partners. DuckDuckGo lets anybody jump into their open-source bits and hack away, providing instant answers for any kind of search that can be defined and hooked up to another site's API.

There are things you can ask DuckDuckGo from your Safari bar for convenient answers. Like (breathes in): "password 12" and "password 14 strong", spaghetti carbonara recipe, words that rhyme with Monterey, the hood internet tracks, "mortgage interest calculator $250000 at 4.5% over 30 years", distance from Buffalo to Ithaca, Korean food in Pittsburgh, map Tarrytown NY, how to mix a mojito ... and on it goes.

Instantly search almost any other site

Programmers refer to the exclamation point (!) as "bang." Why? It comes from letterpress, or maybe comic books, or just because "exclamation point" is a somewhat long phrase to say or type out, and programmers are lazy. Anyways.

I'll leave you to guess why I need 16g threaded CO2 cartridges. Suffice to say: I want them from Amazon.

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Type "!" into DuckDuckGo (or your Safari search bar, in this case, followed by a shortcut letter or word, and DuckDuckGo will automatically redirect your search into that site. So "!a cordovan shoe polish" flings you right over to the Amazon results page for your fancy shoe needs. There are hundreds and hundreds of DuckDuckGo !bangs. Your mission is to try out just a few of the useful bits:

  • !a = Amazon
  • !w = Wikipedia
  • !yt = YouTube
  • !gmail = Gmail (your own Gmail archive, which feels weirdly magical)
  • !recipes = Allrecipes

You can still use Google

One of the most frequently used bangs must be !g, which searches Google. Add !g in front of your search, and you basically just search Google instead of DuckDuckGo, with a usually unnoticeable hop between the two sites. Ain't nobody pretending we're all gonna live without Google here.

The weather

Just entering "weather" shows you the results for your rough location, right at the top of the results. The weather comes from Forecast.io. If you click on the weather result, Forecast will try to tell you exactly when it is going to start raining or snowing, right where you are. You can do the same for "weather Orlando, FL" or "weather 14201.

I have detailed my strange love for Forecast in a previous post. Suffice to say, I think it's the best weather you could get from a web browser, and DuckDuckGo agrees.

Customize the look and feel of your DDG

My weirdo dark/sans DuckDuckGo theme follows me to mobile.

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DuckDuckGo doesn't track you, record your IP address, or offer log-in accounts. But it does let you save settings for things like the theme, your preferred font, and features you do or do not want. Which, uh, what?

They're anonymized "Cloud Settings", which you can save with a unique passphrase that will bring back all the settings you like, on a phone or in a full browser. I like a dark theme with sans-serif font, and I get it everywhere I'm using DDG.


Got your own reasons for using DuckDuckGo, either on the desktop or in your phone? Leave a comment, or tweet it at me.

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