Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

Summary: After a ringing iPhone interrupted a performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony by the New York Philharmonic, the Mac punditocracy has worked overtime dissecting the user interface of the Mute button and alarm clock rings that can override hardware. It's time to take sides.

SHARE:

After a ringing iPhone interrupted a performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony by the New York Philharmonic, the Mac punditocracy has worked overtime dissecting the user interface of the Mute button and alarm clock rings that can override hardware. It's time to take sides.

What appeared at first to be simple inconsiderate behavior turned out to be a more complex story. Patron X said that he had turned off the ringer on his iPhone using the hardware mute switch. It was an alarm clock setting that went off during the performance not a phone call.

He told the paper he had just switched from a Blackberry to an iPhone the day before the incident. He turned the phone to silent before the performance, but was not aware that an alarm on the device had accidentally been set and would still ring.

Several pundits say that this is the correct UI. John Gruber says yes.

However, Andy Ihnatko in a very long analysis says no.

The Mute behavior of the iPhone is just wrong; it’s an important function and its behavior isn’t transparent. The correct answer is so clear to me. Whether the switch silences everything or just some things, the behavior is going to trip people up sometimes. It’s unavoidable. Apple can only choose how users get tripped up. The right answer to most feature design problems the one that puts more control in the hands of the user. If screw-ups are inevitable, then the iPhone should choose to screw up in a way where the user feels like he understands what went wrong, takes responsibility for that mistake, and knows how to avoid repeating it. I shouldn’t be forced to consult a little laminated wallet card every time I slide a two-state “Mute” switch, to remind myself of all of the iPhone’s independent exceptions to the concept of “silence.” I can’t review all pending alerts and notifications to anticipate future problems.

At the Hivelogic blog, Dan Benjamin suggests that a hardware switch should override software settings. However, he points out that Apple doesn't call the button a Mute switch, rather a "Ring/Silent" switch that blocks rings and alerts, but not the result of audio apps such as Clock alarms or even audio from the Music app. So, it's a "silent mode," not "mute."

Benjamin suggests that Apple provide a software slide switch that could turn off all audio.

Here's the thing: Apple keeps giving us stuff that's so smart, like Siri. So why is it so dumb when it comes to muting, silencing or whatever we want to call it?

Why not a rules based Silence app, that knows where you are with GPS (like the opera house or the symphony hall or a church), and can shut up when you're there? It should let you decide about such rings.

In addition, the rules could govern time. I don't answer the phone on Shabbat, why not make Silence understand about the Jewish calendar? It should know that a setting set on the west coast may not be the same on the east coast in a different time zone. Intelligent rings. That's what we want.

And still, the physical switch should override all audio except through the headphones port. It is what we expect.

Topics: Smartphones, Apple, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

42 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

    I disagree. Most people use the silent switch and it works as expected. You place your phone next to your bed and want to sleep undisturbed, except for your morning alarm. This is how the phone works and it is brilliant. The new iPhone user set an alarm and it went off and did not know how to turn it off. Plain and simple mistake. There is no controversy. The iPhone has worked this way forever.
    MisterTibs
    • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

      (Dunno what happened to my post)<br>@MisterTibs <br>Exactly. When you go to a movie or "performance" or any place where you are not the only person in the place, turn your phone OFF!! This is not Apple's fault. I know Windows phones work the same way, and I have to assume Android as well. When I go to bed at night, I like to "Silent" the ringer and apps so I'm only awaken by my alarm as intended.<br><br>Respect other people around you in public places and turn off the phone!!
      mike2k
      • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

        @mike2k no...turn off the alarm...coz even when the phone is turned off..the alarm still overrides that and turns the phone on....so yeah...a software based solution would be nice like the profiles on the good old symbian that when set to silence or meeting, one knows that the alarm won't just disrupt everything!

        Anyway..my guess still not apple's fault... but with a 'but' if it doesnt have a software based solution that can make those settings...coz then the user is left to imagine that the hardware based mute will turn off all tones...
        Mohater
      • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

        nt
        mike2k
      • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

        @mohater
        If the iPhone turned off, (I mean it is completely powered down by the red slider) then the Alarm will not sound.
        Tigertank
      • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

        @mike2k - It's a Ringer or Vibrate switch, not a mute switch. Dumb users.
        The Danger is Microsoft
    • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

      @MisterTibs
      There is an "Airplane" mode... why not a "Concert" mode, which automatically sets sound to mute from all sources. It could have an hour wheel where you could set it for so many hours and then it resets automatically...
      prof123
      • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

        @prof123 Yes! Excellent idea!
        tech-gal
      • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

        @prof123
        Get cracking' on that app prof, I'd buy it. :)
        Tigertank
    • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

      @MisterTibs

      I quite agree with you. If one wants an app that can silence everything at once then that would be the way to go, but normal usage should allow alarms to be set to audible unless otherwise specified when programing the alarm. That's the way all smartphones should work.
      Michael Kelly
    • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

      @MisterTibs
      My mute button died at 13 months (how convenient - just out of warranty) and as I work on film sets, I had to keep adjusting the volume up and down each day. I'm on my second 3GS now (the GPS chip died at 16 months - $100 tom tom app totally wasted). The Nokia profile system works so much better and I wish Apple would just run with it.
      TKR1
      • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

        @TKR1 Your app is never wasted. It will move to another iPhone no problem. The 3GS is free now to boot so you can extend your contract and get a free replacement iPhone.
        The Danger is Microsoft
    • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

      @MisterTibs
      Any good user experience designer always creates an experience that solves unforeseen scenarios. Many people have the wrong expectations about the silent switch -- thinking that it silences the phone globally.

      You being an experienced iPhone user may have learned this in the past, but for newbies -- this can cause (first time) embarrassing situations that Apple's designers should help to avoid.
      MarcusAurellius
  • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

    The silent switch is fine as is... The end user should learn how to use the phone!
    @mohater If the phone is turned off (powered down), the alarm does NOT turn on the phone. The alarm goes off once you power up the phone.
    Nonetheless, a screen that shows all the settings of the various gizmos on the phone (bluetooth, GPS, alarms, volume, etc.) in one place and a way to override that may be handy if there isn't an app already for that.
    FatSushi
    • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

      @FatSushi
      agreed

      @mohater
      Do you even own a smart phone? An alarm will NOT bring a phone up from an off state. The only thing that can turn a phone on from a powered off state is the hardware button.
      mike2k
      • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

        @mike2k - Calm down. I am sure MoHater was thinking of sleep mode and not power down mode.
        The Danger is Microsoft
    • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

      @FatSushi
      That is why we have User Experience Designers. It's never "just fine" if the user is expected to misconstrue a functionality that results in their embarrassment. We lose customers and trust that way.

      We can't always expect some users to go out of their way to find a solution to problems that isn't obvious enough for them. That is why an alert might suffice when the user "silences" the phone to communicate to the user what is exactly happening during "silent" mode, and give them some more options if it is not the behavior they expected.
      MarcusAurellius
  • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

    I agree. It's common sense that silent means silent, not silent-except-when-its-not.

    A user shouldn't have to turn off the entire phone, losing access to all its functions and data, just to be sure it will remain quiet.
    rgcustomer@...
    • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

      @rgcustomer@... [b]A user shouldn't have to turn off the entire phone, losing access to all its functions and data, just to be sure it will remain quiet.[/b]

      Actually YES they [i]should[/i] have to turn the bloody phone off during a concert, movie, or other public gathering where intrusions from such devices would be unwelcome from one's fellows. There is nothing more annoying than some jerk who just [i]has to[/i] use his smartphone during a movie. If it's not the noise from talking or texting on a physical keyboard it's the glow from the smartphone's screen. It's called common courtesy.
      athynz
      • RE: Sounding off on the great iPhone mute switch crisis

        @Pete "athynz" Athens

        Agreed, but I would add that if you are a doctor or someone whose availability is critical, then you ought to be an expert in the functionality of your device before venturing into a concert hall.
        Tigertank