Apple Data Detectors

Apple Data Detectors intelligently find meaningful pieces of information in your documents and let you carry out otherwise time-consuming actions on them with a single click of your mouse. It's easily extendable to new kinds of information, and to new actions that are important to you.

Apple Data Detectors is now shipping as the core technology beneath Internet Address Detectors! Simply select a block of text containing the Internet addresses in which you're interested. Then control-click on your selection to get a contextual menu listing all the detected Internet addresses. Each address has a submenu of actions you can perform. Simply drag to the address you want, drag to the action you want to take, and release. Internet Address Detectors will do the rest for you, automatically!


What are Apple Data Detectors?

Apple Data Detectors grew out of a series of studies in Apple Research Laboratories on how people work with their everyday documents, and what kinds of assistance they would find most valuable. These studies showed that the most significant problem these people faced was dealing with the content of their documents - in particular, taking an action based on information found in one of their documents. For instance, suppose you receive an e-mail message asking you to call a friend at a telephone number enclosed in the message. You might have a third-party telephony application, but getting the phone number out of the e-mail message and into the telephony application is anything but easy. You have to:

  1. Use the mouse to select the phone number (taking care to select only the digits of the telephone number!),
  2. Copy the selection into the clipboard,
  3. Go back to the desktop and find and launch your telephony application (probably clicking on lots of folders along the way),
  4. Find the place in the telephony application where phone numbers can be pasted, and paste it in (or, if there's no place to paste it, go back to the e-mail message, write the phone number down on a scrap of paper, go back to the telephony application, find the place in the telephony application where you can enter numbers, and type it in)
  5. Do whatever you have to do in the application to place the call.

Apple Data Detectors make all of this possible with a selection and a click of the mouse. More specifically, you simply:

  1. Select the region of text around the phone number (not worrying about whether you accidentally select a few extra characters on either end),
  2. Use the new Contextual Menu feature of the MacOS: Hold down the control key and press the mouse button. Behind the scenes, Apple Data Detectors analyze the text you've selected and find meaningful bits of information in that selection, like e-mail addresses, URLs, phone numbers, and other useful things. You're then presented with a menu of the data found by Apple Data Detectors; point at one, and you'll see a hierarchical menu of the actions that you can carry out on it. For a phone number, one of these would surely be to call that number.
  3. Apple Data Detectors then launches a small "action" program that passes the phone number to the telephony application and tells it to place the call. You've done what you wanted to do, with much less effort and without disturbing the applications you've been working on.

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Key features of Apple Data Detectors

  • An easy route to your applications. Apple Data Detectors know how people work - they put the important capabilities of your applications just a mouse click away from your documents.
  • Great for end users. No more character-by-character cutting and pasting to get at some information in a document; no more searching through your computer for that one critical application. Apple Data Detectors let you work directly with your documents; they handle all the details of picking the information up and passing it off to the application. You do exactly what you want to do, faster and more easily than before.
  • Great for developers. It's easy to extend Apple Data Detectors to put your application a single mouse click away from your customers!
  • Easily tailored to your needs. You can set up Apple Data Detectors on your computer to find just the information you care about, and offer just the actions that correspond to your applications.
  • Open to new kinds of data. The recognition engine in Apple Data Detectors can be extended to find new kinds of data, by writing a simple bit of code that describes the data to be found. This can be added into the collection of Apple Data Detectors, and the new pattern will be found along with the others.
  • Open to new actions. Actions are simple programs, usually written in AppleScript, that receive information from the Apple Data Detectors recognition engine and tell applications what to do with that information. Like new detectors, these are usually very simple programs and are very easy to write. However, you have the full power of a real programming language in which to write these actions, so the potential power of these actions is unlimited. You can write new actions to work either with new detectors that you define, or with existing detectors that you receive in the basic Apple Data Detectors kit.

What will I get with Apple Data Detectors?

The Apple Data Detectors package comes with a set of detectors and actions for important everyday tasks associated with Apple's Internet communication tools - Cyberdog and the components of the Apple Internet Connection Kit, including Netscape Navigator, Claris Emailer Lite, NewsWatcher, NCSA Telnet, Fetch, and many others. You'll then be able to use Apple Data Detectors to recognize things like:

  • URLs
  • E-mail addresses
  • Internet host names
  • FTP sites
  • Newsgroups

and do such things as:

  • Open a URL in your preferred Web browser, save the contents of the URL in a file, or save the URL itself in a file
  • Create a new e-mail message to be sent to an e-mail address
  • Open a telnet connection to an internet host
  • Retrieve a file from an FTP site
  • Read a news group.

But this is just the beginning! Apple is working with Mac application developers to build detectors and actions for their products, giving you wide-ranging, easy, and fast access to these applications. We'll also be providing newsgroups, web sites, documentation, and tools that explain how to write detectors and actions, so that users with a little bit of programming expertise can write their own detectors and actions, and share them with you.

See Also