Lessons learned: The truth about the iPhone mute switch



While recording episode seven of Audiodump i discovered the app Alarmy. Alarmy bypasses the hardware mute-switch on the side of the iPhone. How could they bypass it? And why is this allowed inside the otherwise restrictive AppStore?

I guess i’m not the only person who straight out assumed that the flippable switch on the side of the iPhone would be a sound kill-switch. In many situations in life i prefer having a dead-silent phone. At work, in a meeting, while sleeping next to my daughter, and so on. For this i always relied on the iPhone mute-switch.

When discovering Alarmy i immediately thought Oh my god these guys are bypassing the mute-switch and are still allowed in the AppStore?

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

After doing some research on this issue, mostly because i was interested in how the developers of Alarmy did bypass the mute-switch, one fact became apparent to me:

The iPhone mute-switch is not advertised as a function to complete mute your iPhone. It’s rather a Ringer- / Silent-Switch.

This absolutely freaks me out. This is misleading. Because that switch is not a mute-switch. Apparently, it’s never been. This concept issue even lead to ridiculous incidents like a musician causing the New York Philharmonic orchestra to stop its performance.

So, how does that switch work?

Unfortunately it’s not that simple. I made some tests with my private iPhone and did some research, but the behaviour of this switch seems inconsistent. Here’s what i found out:

  • The switch does not necessarily prevent apps from playing sounds - wether your phone is locked or not.
  • It does prevent ringtone playback from incoming calls and messages.
  • It does mute media playback like videos and / or games, although this seems inconsistent.
  • It does not mute the alarms you’ve defined inside Clock.app although there is a misbehaviour in some versions of iOS10 where it actually does mute your alarms.
  • Its somehow related to the Ringer setting inside Settings.app -> Sounds, but i couldn’t figure out the impact of these settings regarding the mute-switch.

This is horrible. It’s a hardware switch, and turning a device off, means stopping it to function. I assumed this switch turns off the speaker of the phone for all sounds except emergency notifications and / or FindMyIphone. But it does not.

Wow.

To be honest, this is ridiculous. It’s just plain incredible how a simple ON/OFF switch can cause this much confusion. I’m kinda shocked. While i somewhat understand the intention behind the current behaviour of the mute-switch, it’s a huge problem for a device that is designed to be simple. Well, creating misleading functionality behind a two-state-switch is anything else, but not even close to being simple.

So after this blog post, im stuck with:

What should i call the switch on the side of my phone now? Sometimes-mute-switch-but-lets-hope-my-phone-stays-silent-during-the-meeting switch?

Interestingly, the comments on this throughoutt the web-forums are controversial.

Here are some comments, taken from the comments in this article.

yeah I agree it should mut everything, can be really embarassing during an office meeting. (happened to me in the past)

I think they should add a second switch that mutes everything. They could put it right next to the current one.

The switch name is very misleading, it should be renamed “silent switch” or similar. Apple should also add a setting to choose what the switch mutes: sounds or everything.

The whole ideal of apple isn’t that the user has to be smart to operate the iphone. It is all about convenience. And in most situations where you have to be silent, it’s unconvenient if you also have to switch of all your alarms. Some people use alarms more heavily then others. I have a few repeating ones myselfe and I don’t feel like I should do what the mute button should.

My solution

From my point-of-view, a hardware mute-switch should kill all sounds except emergency sounds. However, i understand the need for some alarms and apps to be able to play sounds even when the rest of the phone is muted. This can easily adressed by extending the functionality of do-not-disturb.

Whats your oppinion on this? Do you have any additional information on how this switch works? Please let me know by sending me an email to contact [at] flowinho [dot] com.



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Flowinho
Code monkey, technology and UI enthusiast. Father. If you want to know more about me, feel free to visit my about page.