Apple iPhones have a neat feature called Control Centre that gives you easy access to settings and features you typically use a lot.
Amongst other things, you can quickly set your screen rotation lock, turn on the torch (flashlight), set the screen brightness and volume, and, perhaps most conveniently of all, control your wireless connectivity settings.
Until iOS 11, you couldn’t customise the Control Centre screen, and you had to jump to the main screen first by pressing the Home button before you could activate the Control Centre.
Now, you can change its appearance, as well as give yourself access to Control Centre from everywhere, making it likely you’ll use it more often:
You open the Control Centre simply by swiping up from the bottom of the screen:
As you can see above, I’ve got Airplane mode turned on (the icon goes orange to indicate that in this mode, “on” effectively means that connectivity is off).
If I tap the plane icon, Airplane mode goes off and Wi-Fi (blue) and mobile data (green) are automatically activated:
In my case, however, Bluetooth remains off.
That’s because I have it turned off in my iPhone settings – apart from a brief flirtation with a Bluetooth mouse a few years ago, which cost me far more in batteries and late-night trips to the convenience store than I recovered in utility, I’ve simply never used or needed it:
Now assume that I briefly wanted to use Bluetooth, and I decided that the new access-from-anywhere Control Centre screen would be a handy way to control it.
I’d tap the Bluetooth icon on (left), and then later tap it off (right):
But look what’s happened when I go back into the iPhone settings screens.
Bluetooth shows up as “Not Connected”, and the Bluetooth page itself shows that it is actually active, but in a halfway-house mode where “new Bluetooth connections have been turned off”:
In other words, the Bluetooth button on the Control Center page isn’t an off-on toggle as its visual appearance suggests; it’s an off-on-sort-of-off-but-not-really-off-at-all toggle that doesn’t work as you might expect.
It’s the same with Wi-Fi: if you turn it off from Control Center, you don’t actually turn it off, as the grey icon suggests, but simply drop it into a similar halfway-house mode, causing it to disconnect from the network you’re on right now but leaving the Wi-Fi hardware active:
To be fair to Apple, this behaviour is officially documented in Apple support article HT208086, entitled Use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in Control Center with iOS 11, but in our opinion, you’d be forgiven for thinking that those those grey “off” icons on the Control Centre screen really meant “off”.
As the support article explains it, “off” in this context means something much more nebulous, namely:
Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth will continue to be available, so you can use these important features: AirDrop, AirPlay, Apple Pencil, Apple Watch, Continuity features, like Handoff and Instant Hotspot, Instant Hotspot and Location Services.
Curiously, the support article also documents that both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth will automatically come back on when one of these happens:
- You walk or drive to a new location. (Wi-Fi only.)
- It’s 05:00 local time.
- You restart your device.
What’s special about 5am? We have no idea – please share your best guess, or your worst nightmare, in the comments below. Tell us why why you think Apple hard-wired that particular time into the system.
What to do?
- You can hold your finger on one of the Control Centre connectivity buttons for a moment to pop up a screen to check directly whether a grey Bluetooth or Wi-Fi icon means “off” or “sort-of off”:
Above, the annotation “Not connected” below the grey Wi-Fi button means it isn’t really off at all, and will magically reactivate in the morning (or if you move to a new location); the word “Off” below the grey Bluetooth button means it really is off, and won’t reawaken until you activate it in Settings.
- You can control Wi-Fi and Bluetooth decisively from the Settings page, where each one has a toggle between “on” and “off” in the conventional sense of those words:
Be careful out there: it turns out that “on” means “on”, but “off” may mean “coming on again soon”.
19 comments on “iPhone’s new “off” switch that leaves Bluetooth and Wi-Fi turned on”
Why would they do that? If I want WiFi off then I want I off, not have it likely reconnect again. Talk about a backwards step. Having only started using an iPhone since January, the control panel is one of the major things I miss from Android, other than the quick access to the camera that is.
To be fair to Apple (again), the Settings page is easy enough to get to, so if you make that your primary destination for controlling wireless settings, you’re golden. (The main Settings screen conveniently has the following controls at the top: Airplane Mode – Wi-Fi – Bluetooth – Personal Hotspot [access point].)
As for why did Apple do that – I’m guessing that sufficiently many users expect that turning Wi-Fi off should cut them off from their current internet access point, yet leave local connectivity working, such as AirDrop and AirPlay. In other words, “off” doesn’t mean that the wireless transmitter/receiver is set for radio silence, merely that you aren’t “online” any more. And I guess that the other big reason is to keep Location Services working, because, well, ahem, revenue 🙂
My own opinion is that the toggle button, when pressed twice, should take you back *to where you were*. If you were in “not connected” mode, that’s where you should end up; if you were “off” you should return to “off”. And the button should reflect whether you are off-off or semi-off. (Maybe draw a diagonal line through the button if the actual radio device is powered down?)
Apple says this about Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and why they changed it:
In iOS 11 and later, when you toggle the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth buttons in Control Center, your device will immediately disconnect from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth accessories. Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth will continue to be available, so you can use these important features:
Continuity features, like Handoff and Instant Hotspot
We quoted that bit in the article itself (abbreviated, but the link’s there to the relevant Apple support database entry you’ve pasted here).
That says what Apple has documented as “important”, but that’s not quite the same as explaining the motivator that made it important…
What a dumb change. My iPad ‘s WiFi and Bluetooth connections didn’t do that before iOS 11. I didn’t have to tap, tap into Settings in order to disable that.
That explains the noise I sometimes get from by Garmin watch at 5am.
I have a Garmin watch connected via Bluetooth to my IPhone. At night I don’t want to be disturbed by my phone so it is put on charge in another room. I then “turn off” Bluetooth on my phone, with the Control Centre button and go to bed. Then sometimes at about 5am (I can’t be sue as I’m half asleep) it must turn on again and reconnect to my watch. This causes my watch to alert me with a buzz.
I guess I better change how I turn off Bluetooth. It feels to me like there is a missing AirDrop button from the Control Centre.
Why did they do it? Because it takes COURAGE to take a simple on-off button, a function that’s worked properly forever, with no explanation necessary, and make it do something inexplicable.
To be scrupulously accurate, the buttons in question don’t actually say “on-off” (with that green slider that most iOS on-off switches have). They just go from blue to grey, and, as shown in the article, if you long-press one of the relevant buttons you will get a bigger screen where the buttons are annotated with “on”, “not connected” or “off”.
But perhaps that’s being scrupulous to the point of pedantry… they certainly look like on-off buttons to me :-)
Do remember to disable this behaviour on Android in
Location, (three dots),
Scanningor in older Androids from WLAN settings.
I don’t understand why Apple did the change, but I also don’t understand why no one mentions that Android is doing the same thing with the exception of automatically starting the radios.
The Android case is IMO slightly different – this article was about the ambiguity of Apple’s new on-off buttons that can toggle you from off to on and back to not-actually-off when the visual appearance suggests that the toggle took you on a plain and simple journey from off to on and back to off.
But, yes, be aware that Android has a system setting that is like Apple’s “not connected” mode, where system apps are allowed to monitor your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth environment – a somewhat liberal interpretation of a “radio disconnect”.
Conspiracy theorist believe: (yes it’s a play on the history channels alien theorist quoting themselves) They folded to FBI wish list and enabled a check in feature, at 5am.
I have two issue with the update myself, the horizontal keyboard was removed (WTF!!! I like the keys) camera switching is super flakey too.
Ahh, I don’t use horizontal mode a lot, but I see what you mean: the Bold/Italic/Underline button, cursor arrows and undo key have vanished. I have learned to shake my iPhone to trigger “undo” but it’s hassle compared to tapping a key…
Ah, first-world problems…
I agree though. Shaking the device (as opposed to moving my thumb 12mm to the backspace key) disrupts the momentum, also feels barbaric to me–from a highly sissified perspective naturally.
My problem with shaking the phone for “Undo” is that it always feels as though I am going to drop it…
hah. at first glance I thought the screenshot depicted a “Duck Connector”
I blame the author, since I already had connectivity on the brain.
There is a difference between off and semi-off in control panel, semi-off is grey and off has a \ thru the gray wifi Bluetooth button
I’m not convinced users have a strong mental model of what “semi-off” represents (perhaps closest to “standby” on house electronics)
Is there a firewall app for apple that can shutdown the bluetooth and wifi radios.
I am so depressed having read about Bluetooth scanning and the location services and the covid app. I am going to purchase a non smart phone and use my laptop to get email and internet. At least with the laptop it only takes a year before the battery stops working so I can safely say that it is off.
I switch my phone off in the mornings when I travel by train but now I realise that the phone does not switch off and continues to log my every move.
If you turn Wi-Fi and Bluetooth off in Settings, rather than in Control Center, they are off-as-in-off for all apps including the operating system itself.