Solving for iOS 11 Control Center's new Wi-Fi and BT toggles

Control Center in iOS 11
Control Center in iOS 11 (Image credit: iMore)

Prior to iOS 11, toggling off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in Control Center killed those radios dead. Now, it only kills current connections but leaves everything from Apple Watch and Apple Pencil connections and AirDrop and Universal Clipboard features running as normal. And some people aren't happy about it.

The EFF:

Turning off your Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios when you're not using them is good security practice (not to mention good for your battery usage). When you consider Bluetooth's known vulnerabilities, it's especially important to make sure your Bluetooth and Wi-Fi settings are doing what you want them to. The iPhone's newest operating system, however, makes it harder for users to control these settings.

Apple has to meet the needs of hundreds of millions of customers from first-time users to long-time pros. Sometimes those needs are in conflict.

For example, it wasn't intuitive to first-time, casual, and mainstream customers that turning off Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth would cause AirDrop, Instant Hotspot, call and SMS relay, and other features to stop working. Or, that it would cause Apple Watch, Apple Pencil, and even AirPods to cut out. Many of us have had first-hand experience helping family members with exactly those problems.

Having the Control Center toggles shut off the current Wi-Fi connection or third-party Bluetooth devices, but keep Continuity services and Apple Pencil and Apple Watch-style deeply-connected accessories keep going makes the most sense to that user group, And it's a big user group.

But, it comes at the expense of longer-term, more expert users who know full well how the protocols and radios work, and are used to how Control Center toggled them in previous versions of iOS. You know, the ones who want "off" to mean "OFF".

To further complicate matters, connections re-active when you come in range of known networks, or at 5 a.m. local time, because Apple decided that makes sense. The result is a state that's no longer binary or predictable, which is incredibly frustrating for people who expect it to be both.

Turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in Settings remains as it was — absolute as in off means OFF. But it's not as readily nor as quickly accessible. And that's inconvenient.

I'm not opposed to the change in theory. Persisting Continuity and deeply-connected accessories is a good thing. But the current implementation isn't a clear win for anyone.

There are several things Apple could do about it:

  1. Revert the change, which would again leave casual, mainstream users confused about why Continuity and deeply connected accessories stopped working just because Wi-Fi or Bluetooth was intentionally or accidentally tapped.
  2. Add multiple states to the switches — on, disconnect, and off — which would increase complexity and, potentially, confusion.
  3. Add an alert-on-toggle — "Are you sure you want to disconnect Apple Watch?" — which would add significant overhead and dialog fatigue to the process.
  4. Add a preference in Settings to restore the old behavior, which would just offload the problem to users.

My preference is currently for the 4th solution. Sure, it's "one more toggle", but it could be set to the new behavior by default — and most people, especially casual users, never change defaults — it would only add load to the long-term, expert users who want it and are most capable of handling it.

Apple's iOS team could likely come up with an even better solution, of course. It's their job to do just that.

As to the EFF's security issues with the new implementation, Bluetooth isn't going anywhere. With BT LE and now Bluetooth 5.0, and the aforementioned Continuity features and deeply connected devices, it's becoming increasingly critical to how we use and benefit from technology.

Bluetooth needs to do everything possible to make its protocol as secure as possible. Vendors need to make sure their Bluetooth stacks are bullet-proof. And people concerned about Bluetooth, in general, need to remember that can still kill it completely in Settings. That works the same way it always did.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • I prefer the second option. And seriously, how much brain power does it really take to learn what a switch does? People need to stop assuming most iPhone users are idiots.
  • This. When I worked the phones for Apple, I got people who accidentally turned on Do Not Disturb, but never "why isn't my WiFi working?" from CC.
  • “because Apple decided that makes sense.” Okay, that right there is actually the problem. **** off Apple!!! I have a mind of my own and I know that if I want Bluetooth or WiFi off, I WANT THEM OFF. Also, for “Mainstream/casual” users, I have a hard time believing they do not know that turning Bluetooth off meant everything that uses Bluetooth would be disabled. Sorry, but I’m positive even the least tech savvy people on the planet know that.
  • You would be surprised. Most people when it comes to technology are absolutely stupid. They don't want to or have the time to learn. They just want it to work.
  • But that’s the thing, it NEVER simply works, and sorry, but if a person refuse to learn with tech, that is their deal and no one else should have to be dragged along. Apple themselves offer sessions regarding how things work, and I’ve seen people in these sessions as well.
  • The iPhone and iPad are incredibly simple devices to use when compared to a desktop computer or non-touchscreen laptop. Many people have gotten iPhones/iPads for their grandparents who had never used a computer before, and now use these devices every day. But going back to this topic, this was a really bad move on Apple's part. Hopefully it will be adjusted in an update
  • In my opinion, I think a tap on the WiFi/BT button should function as it does now in iOS 11, i.e. it disconnects current connections but doesn’t interrupt deeply integrated Apple features, keeping things simple for those who are less tech savvy. A 3D Touch/Long press will bring up an option to either disconnect or shut off for those who want more control.
  • I agree. There as no reason not to have a complete disconnect option also.
  • I would prefer a nested option - toggles on a page under settings that allows you to choose to use continuity for your chosen devices per device, and enable the option for 5 am activation.
  • The real criticism to be made if Apple here is that they didn't foresee the polarizing reaction of uses — I mean, seriously, the EFF is against them on this. Apple should have been obvious that "off" not meaning "off" on a feature researchers have shown can be tracked (via Bluetooth MAC address) and *recently* was compromised (Yes, Apple patched it, but it still existed). Also, I don't see the point of even having the switch anymore. If I just want to disconnect from my car, I change inputs. If I want to discount headphones, I turn them off. If I want to disconnect from a keyboard, I turn it off. If I'm having trouble with Bluetooth, I turn it off and on. If I want to save battery, I turn it off. I haven't upgraded to iOS for battery reasons. When I do, I'll just kill Bluetooth. I have a headphone jack.
  • You won't have a headphone jack for very long if you're planning to stick with iOS
  • Another clumsy design decision from Apple. Off should mean off, not "off until you get near another wifi signal." Most users aren't going to take the time to figure out why, when they thought they turned off the wifi/bt, it's not actually turned off and they now have to go spelunking in their settings to turn something off that should have been off in the first place. People are expecting it to be off when they turn it off and so it should be.
  • That funny day when Android starts making sense more than iOS. Wow.
  • There is a reason behind this, but the reason is not really worth it when people want to toggle these settings primarily for the purpose of battery life. Android does have a lot of illogical things too, namely the version fragmentation between phones…
  • Did I trigger you or something? Whether there's a reason or not, a bad UX decision of such shouldn't be tolerated.
  • Android makes as much sense and iOS does, in that they both have flaws. And I agree
  • This is how stupid design, Apple designers probably never really closed wifi connection, and then with the latest ios11 series battery life performance can not hold for half a day.
  • Battery life has improved a lot in iOS 11.1, it's a known thing that generally on major OS updates battery life can suffer. Be patient, it will be fixed soon
  • These toggles have been messed up and are confusing to say the least.
    I mean the toggles that are besides the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth mostly have two states which are clear - either lit or unlit and meaning that a certain function is either on or off. With the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toggles there are now three states - lit, unlit and striked through. How is this easier for "simple users" that two lit toggles that are besides each other mean the same thing but the same two toggles when unlit mean different things and one toggle keeps getting lit again by itself and it also sometimes is striked through (after turning off via Settings) and is in a state that can never be reached via the actual toggle neither by pressing, long pressing or any other action with the toggle? When a user needs to look through articles on internet to get an understanding of how a simple toggle works, it isn't simple for "simple users".
    If a person has used an iPhone previously and used the toggles, certain things can already be in muscle memory. E.g. before going out of home to turn off Wi-Fi not to waste precious battery life or not to connect to other already known Wi-Fi unnecessarily. I still find myself swiping up the control centre to turn off the Wi-Fi and then remembering - oh, wait, these toggles are useless garbage now, I need to unlock my device, go to Settings, go to Wi-Fi, turn it off and then lock the device again before I put in in my pocket. Neither quick, neither convenient.
    When I just updated I thought it was a bug that my Wi-Fi toggle kept turning back on again. I had to do some searching before finding an official explanation by Apple of how they ruined the toggles and how they also take decision on my part to turn the toggles back on after I explicitly turned them off.
  • It's certainly a UX issue, and Apple are supposed to be top of the league for that, so they've really made themselves look bad here. They should've just made it so that it does a normal toggle, but if they are going to do the three-state thing, then it should be available through 3D touch
  • "Apple has to meet the needs of hundreds of millions of customers from first-time users to long-time pros. Sometimes those needs are in conflict." this is angering because it could have *EASILY* been a switch. Anyone with a CS degree could likely add it in an hour. Add an option in Settings WiFi, and have it say "turn WiFi OFF when you toggle in CC" same for BT. OR just allow 3D touch to turn it off off. Apple CHOSE that they know better. This is the problem they'll have going forward. They don't know better. "Solving for iOS 11 Control Center's new Wi-Fi and BT toggles"
    Also, do you not proof-read? "Solution" not "Solving"? I guess if you mean "Solving for X" but it really doesn't read for that.
  • Alas, I think Rene deliberately turned a verb into a noun. It's a particularly egregious marketing trick.
  • Just make force touch or 3D Touch have an extra option here. For disconnect and off. iPhones have all these features but only barely use them. It’s annoying
  • That does seem to be a very obvious solution. Apple still don't seem too keen to use 3D Touch to its full potential.
  • "Solving for iOS 11 Control Center's new Wi-Fi and BT toggles" That sentence makes my head hurt. Has Rene started feeding sentences in multiple languages through Google Translate, or is there an App that makes one sound like an overambitious PR goon?
  • I wondered the same. Plus, I reached the end of the article and found there was no solution provided.
  • Ah, that elusive demographic known as “SOME”. Let’s get one thing straight, no matter what Apple says, does, or releases there will always SOME who disagree, get angry, throw epithets, declare the company evil personified, and otherwise trash what just happened. Rene Ritchie presents a perfectly rational reason for Apple’s decision to modify the WiFi/Bluetooth switch, probably after studying thousands of Genius Bar cases where customers came in with the exact situations Mr. Ritchie describes. They didn’t realize turning off either service would kill everything. Now comes the SOME who virulently castigate the company for trying to make things easier for their customers. One commenter in this thread goes so far as to pronounce such customers stupid and unworthy of consideration.
  • Sort of a parallel here, but for travelers like me I always thought it annoying that putting a phone in Airplane mode turned off BT. In a millisecond and a half I can re-enable it, but why disconnect at all? I'm for Option 2 as well. Putting a phone in Airplane mode should have no effect on BT. That should be separate.
  • No offense intended, but an attitude like yours is why education is important. Bluetooth uses the same radio frequencies as Wifi, and causes the same radio interruptions that airplane mode is meant to prevent. Since Apple has made such a big deal about their own wireless chips they are "inventing," I would love to see them buy up some isolated spectrum that's neither wifi nor bluetooth, and use it for device communications like this.
  • No offense taken. I already know I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer. To deepen the conversation, I get (I think) that Airplane mode is meant to turn off potential radio interruptions. But then why is there an option to turn BT on while in Airplane mode? Doesn't that defeat the purpose of Airplane mode?
  • Off should mean off. I don't need Apple deciding for me. I'm a big boy. If people don't want to learn, then they shouldn't get a device. I would, however, accept the toggle switch in Control Center as an option to either turn off or disconnect current connections.
  • When I press a button to turn off Wifi and/or Bluetooth, Wifi and Bluetooth better be turned off. What Apple did here was just dumb.
  • Shady move by Apple. Bad enough that your BT is turned on every time you do a software update. They literally changed the function of a switch. Off no longer means off, however, you can use the same switch to turn it on even if it was fully off in Settings. Apple deserves a smack in the face.
  • I think a simpler solution would be the addition of a force touch enabled state. The current disconnect feature remains when the control center button is tapped. Using a force touch users can completely disable feature. The state is then identified by the icon displayed in control center. So to review: tap to disconnect, force touch to disable completely.
  • I'm a savvy iOS user, and the only reason I ever want to turn Wi-Fi "off" is to disconnect from a spotty or slow network. I keep Wi-Fi on (like most users) all the time, as it helps with location accuracy and keeps other apps that use it functioning. For example, when I get home, I don't really want to have to remember to turn it back on just so my smart home products can see me. As is, when I pull into my driveway, my house knows I am home, provided Wi-Fi is on. To me, the new functionality makes complete sense. If I want to fully turn Wi-Fi off, I'll navigate myself to Settings to do so.
  • I have multiple devices. My iPad constantly connects to my Bluetooth headphones (which are paired with multiple devices) i then have to stop what I'm watching figure out that it sooner how thorned on the headphones then disconnect Bluetooth again. This was very annoying. Once i realized this was the case, the toggle in the control center became useless to me