iOS Control Center: Understanding how the WiFi and Bluetooth toggles work

John Gruber, commenting on the fact that the WiFi and Bluetooth buttons in Control Center no longer act as on/off switches:

This is an interesting feature, but I think it’s going to confuse and anger a lot of people. Until iOS 11, the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toggles in Control Center worked the way it looked like they worked: they were on/off switches. Now, in iOS 11, they still look like on/off switches, but they act as disconnect switches.

Off the top of my head, I would suggest making them three-way switches: on and connected, on but disconnected, and off.

Completely agree. This setup is confusing. As John points out, when you tap the WiFi button, WiFi is left on, but you are disconnected from your current session. Tap it again, you are reconnected. The icon goes from a blue background to a grey background, and back to blue when you reconnect.

To complete the picture, there is a third icon state. Take a look at what happens when you turn on airplane mode:

The grey background with the line through it shows that Bluetooth and WiFi are now disconnected. In Airplane mode, a tap on the WiFi icon goes from disabled to connected (assuming there’s WiFi to be had), from grey with a line through it to the blue background.

Confusing. But once you get the sense of it, it’s pretty clear what’s happening.

  • jmas

    «But once you get the sense of it, it’s pretty clear what’s happening.»

    Absolutely not!

    There are two main problems here:

    1. The new behavior flagrantly violates the POLA (Principle Of Least Astonishment). That’s a vey bad idea per se.

    2. Now, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can be in one of three possible states, but they are not easily distinguishable, neither in the Control Center nor in the status bar. For example: when Bluetooth is turned “off” in CC, the BT icon vanishes from the status bar!!! The same thing happens when you actually disable Bluetooth in Settings. Then, if the BT icon is not being displayed in the status bar, it could be that BT is not allowing connections (turned off from CC), or that the BT radio has been switched off (from Settings). This is confusing as hell and a possible source of security problems.

  • Borja

    «But once you get the sense of it, it’s pretty clear what’s happening.»

    This is a very serious problem. How often are users blamed for security blunders? Users need accurate information in order to make sensible choices. Confusing information is the first step in countless incidents.

  • lkalliance

    Setting aside the real issue of making the controls intuitive, I was wondering about why this is and whether it would get in the way of things. Per your post, the “why” is so that Apple services and devices that rely on BT and Wifi wouldn’t be accidentally crippled without real intent.

    But I turn off Wifi and Bluetooth all the time, to save power. I’ve seen a couple of comments on The Verge that suggest that they don’t use that much power when they’re at rest anyway, so perhaps that habit is misguided to begin with. But set that aside: I sometimes intentionally turn off both radios. I used to have to go into Settings to do this, and I rejoiced when they arrived in Control Center. Now this is a step back.

    But I was explaining this issue to a colleague yesterday, and it dawned on me that it might be a benefit. Sometimes I turn off the radios and forget to turn them back on (particularly wifi), and use my data plan when I don’t intend. This would fix that! Assuming the power drain is, as I’ve read, minimal when I’m not using the radio (and what is “not using?” Connected to a network but not sending or receiving data? Not being on a network at all?), then maybe this IS a benefit!

  • ChuckO

    “when you tap the WiFi button, WiFi is left on, but you are disconnected from your current session” I have no idea what exactly that means or why I might want to be in that state. So I can switch WiFi networks easily?

    • Cranky Observer

      For people who have their devices set to connect to unauthenticated networks – which Apple prefers, because it aids geolocation and device-to-device communication – using the control panel drops all non-authenticated connections and does not try them again until 5am the next day. If unreliable local wi-fi is overriding your cell connection and slowing things down this technique will force your connection back to cell and with luck improve your communication. While leaving you wide open to RF fingerprinting and tracking.

  • Cranky Observer

    IMHO Mr. Gruber is far off the mark with this statement:

    = = = Motherboard has a story that posits that this change is a security risk, but I think that’s overblown. I think the problem is simply that these buttons no longer do (a) what they used to do, even though they look the same, and (b) what people naturally expect them to do, just by looking at them. = = =

    Recent revelations have confirmed that security services – some of them good guys, some of them evil – are using RF tracking, fingerprinting, correlation, and network analysis against a wide variety of targets on a routine basis. Certainly anyone standing withing 1/2 km of a public demonstration is having their RF fingerprint hoovered up, x-tracked, and stored in multiple database. When people choose to turn off RF signals on their devices there are often very good reasons for doing so. Apple is going to get some people imprisoned, tortured, and killed with this change.

  • Not trying to make some kind of “but they do it to”-ism; actual real question here:

    Doesn’t Android, at least some manufacturer’s phones, already do it this way? Did people raise a stink then, or is this getting bigger headlines because it is Apple? Not that that is bad, since if this is a bad thing, then we should be getting both Apple and Android to not do it or make controls more clear.

    I mainly ask because if this was already being done out there and we didn’t hear much, maybe it isn’t as much an issue or something has been worked out to mitigate issues?