The Curious Case of iOS 11 Bluetooth Control

iOS 11 has been out for a while. Among the many changes is the controversial new Control Center. And one of the items in the Control Center is the Bluetooth switch. Most people probably don’t need it or spend much time on it. But having to deal with the Bluetooth control for my company’s products, I found the seemingly subtle changes confusing and odd.

The odd behavior of Bluetooth control in iOS 11

If you want to turn on the Bluetooth for your headphone or your Bluetooth speaker, a quick way is to turn on Bluetooth button in the Control Center, if you know how to bring up the Control Center. This will effectively only reconnect to the devices that are already paired, which has to be done in Settings.

So far so good, things still look familiar. Here’s the kicker with iOS11: if you turn Bluetooth off in the Control Center, look what happens in Settings > Bluetooth:

Allow New Bluetooth Connection? The fine print says “New Bluetooth has been turned off from Control Center”. Does that mean the old connections are still on? Don’t waste your time testing. The answer, turns out, is yes and no. We’ll cover that shortly. But let’s try tap on the Button “Allow New Bluetooth Connection”, what will happen?

Boom! The button’s gone. Now you are looking at the good old Bluetooth settings screen. A button disappears when you tap? Control Center and Settings have two levels of controls and neither provides a complete view of what’s going on with the Bluetooth controls? What is Apple trying to achieve here?

Here’s what Apple has to say about how it works:

Wait, what? Bluetooth is still available even when I turned them off? Any other features I can still use? How would I know if I’m using Handoff or Location Services? Can I connect my headphone? What is going on here? Continue reading, you will see:

What?! If I turned Bluetooth off from the Control Center, it will be turned back on AUTOMATICALLY at 5 AM or when I restart the device? How would I know that without going extra mile reading their support documents? By the way, my test shows that restarting the device didn’t turn Bluetooth back on in the Control Center. So what is Apple trying to say here?

All I can tell is that Apple is trying to explain a behavior that can only be explicitly accessed/controlled from the Control Center. Once you turn Bluetooth off in Control Center, you get this Allow New Connections button in Settings out of nowhere. And once you tap on this button, it is gone! And now you just turned Bluetooth button back on in the Control Center! Try explain the following relationship in plain, simple words!

I understand that Apple is trying to promote it’s own accessories and some native iOS services. But instead of some straightforward solutions, it almost feel like they are trying to play a smart trick, which has literally back fired and made a mess.

How to better design the Bluetooth controls?

Just as a thought exercise, there are two directions we can take this:

  1. Introducing a third state to the Bluetooth button in the Control Center and the Settings. 
    This is to faithfully represent the new layer of control iOS 11 has added:
    - Bluetooth off
    - Bluetooth on for Apple accessories and services only
    - Bluetooth on for all accessories
    However, it’s not hard to see the challenge of showing the three states in a meaningful, easy-to-understand way. Apple is also taking the risk of offending all third party accessory makers bluntly.
  2. Change the Bluetooth button behavior in Control Center from an On/Off switch to a link that simply brings up the Settings Bluetooth section. Bluetooth, unlike most of other controls in the Control Center, is not something you can connect by simply turning on. Many Bluetooth devices require specific user action to initiate the pairing process which can take a few seconds to complete. So instead of an on/off button, it is more useful to bring user to the Settings to deal with the specific Bluetooth devices. 
    For the device and services and requires continuity, Apple can provide switches on a per device basis. This way there is no need for elusive button with obscure name, and the behavior can stay consistent. And Settings will continue be the center for all Bluetooth device controls.