The Three Design Principles Which The iPhone’s WiFi Setting Violates
Anyone who uses an iPhone or those who know how the iPhone works, would be familiar with the ‘Swipe up’ gesture to view the new ‘Control Center’ settings which were introduced in the iOS 11 release —
An iPhone user can switch on mobile data by tapping on the mobile data icon, as shown —
The iPhone user can switch off the mobile data by clicking on the mobile data icon again and it goes back to it’s initial state. No big deal here — the two states of ‘mobile data off’ and ‘mobile data on’ are as shown.
In a similar way, an iPhone user would expect to switch on the wifi, by clicking on the wifi icon.
Do take note that the wifi icon has a cross across it in the init state. Once the wifi is turned on by a click on the icon, the iPhone will connect to the wifi network it is authenticated to. The wifi icon when the wifi is switched on, is as shown —
Issues with Keeping iPhone’s WiFi On
It is important to note that, if the iPhone is not able to connect to any wifi networks when it is switched on, it will search for networks or hotspots. It will continue searching for networks for as long as the iPhone’s user authenticates a wifi network to connect to or until the user turns the wifi off.
Needless to say, continuously searching for wifi networks or hotspots leads to battery drain. And for an iPhone user (or any smartphone user), with the broadband and mobile data costs coming down, the phone battery life is the most premium commodity.
An iPhone user who is conscious of his battery life would not prefer to keep his wifi on. The iPhone user would turn the wifi off when he knows that he is not in the range of any wifi networks which he has the credentials for.
There are several articles which recommend keeping the iPhone (or any smartphone) wifi off to save battery life when the user is not browsing the internet or is not in the range of a network he is authenticated to. It is recommended though that, for better battery life, a smartphone user uses wifi instead of mobile data whenever possible.
Also, plenty of users would want quiet time away from their phones — they would want to stay disconnected from the internet and not want to hear notifications beeping away calling for their attention for certain periods of time and would prefer keeping their wifi off.
I (like any other iPhone user) expected that — similar to the convention of switching the mobile data on & off — the wifi would be turned off by clicking the wifi icon and would remain off until I swiped up and turned the wifi back on.
I noticed that, when I clicked on the wifi icon to turn the wifi off, the wifi icon did not go back to the init state with a line across it (right), but displayed the intermediate icon (bottom left). I did not think too much about it at that point in time.
I then discovered that, my iPhone used to switch on the wifi on its own after I had (supposedly) switched it off leading to unnecessary battery drain and needless distraction because of app notifications whenever it managed to connect to a wifi network.
When I tried to switch off the wifi by clicking on the wifi icon after swiping up, I noticed a message at the top of the screen ‘Disconnecting Nearby Wi-Fi Until Tomorrow’.
I have observed that, on some occasions, the wifi switches on by itself if I travel from one location to another where there is a authenticated wifi network and does not remain switched off until the next day as stated.
Even if the wifi remains switched off until the next day as communicated, I still do not understand why Apple Inc. decided that it would be beneficial for its iPhone users if it controls when the iPhone wifi should switch on.
I did not like it one bit that I was not in control of my phone’s wifi and that my iPhone claimed to be a better judge of and had to decide for me when it would be the best time for it to switch the wifi on.
I Googled for a resolution and I discovered that there were plenty of iPhone users who were facing this exact issue and were out there looking for solutions.
How could Apple Inc. — the gold standard of User Experience Design and the guys who coined the term ‘User Experience’ in the first place — even think of putting their users through such an experience?
Through different posts and forums, I also figured out that, the iPhone wifi does not switch off on a click but instead, goes into a temporary state which enables the iPhone to turn on wifi on it’s own.
The three different wifi state indications are as shown below —
The first is the init wifi state (no wifi), the second is when wifi is switched on after a swipe up and the third is the icon denoting this temporary wifi state where the iPhone switches on the wifi on its own.
Switching WiFi Off So That It Doesn’t Switch on by Itself
To switch the wifi off so that the iPhone does not switch it on all by itself, I discovered that I had to go to the main iPhone settings menu and turn the wifi off from there (as shown).
Only on doing this, the init wifi state (with a line across) is shown and the wifi remains switched off.
It was a relief that that I had finally found a way to not let my iPhone’s wifi switch on all by itself. But it was very inconvenient to go to the main settings every time after I used the wifi on my phone and switch off the wifi there to prevent it from switching on by itself.
Heuristic Design Principles Violated
There are three heuristic design principles which the iPhone violates with its action of automatically switching on the wifi, namely-
- User Control and Freedom
By switching on the wifi on its own, even after its user had (supposedly) switched it off, the iPhone clearly violates the principle of User Control and Freedom.
- Consistency and Standards
By forcing the user to follow different conventions for switching mobile data on & off and for switching wifi on & off, the iPhone’s wifi setting violates the second design principle of Consistency and Standards.
- Visibility of System Status
As seen in different forums and posts, plenty of users had no clue why their system — in this case, their iPhone’s wifi — was switching on by itself. By not keeping it’s users informed about what is going on, the iPhone’s wifi setting violates the third design heuristic — Visibility of System Status.
The iPhone’s Bluetooth settings are similar to the wifi settings . The Bluetooth has three states as well, namely init (Bluetooth switched off), the second is the Bluetooth switched on and the third is the icon denoting this temporary Bluetooth state where the iPhone switches on the Bluetooth on its own.
Though the gesture of switching on the iPhone wifi (and the Bluetooth) takes just about a second on a swipe up and click, Apple Inc. decided that the iPhone should control when the wifi should turn on.
The issues of battery drain, un-called for distractions and subsequently forcing it’s users to go through the long route of going to the settings to turn the wifi (and Bluetooth) off are secondary to me. The fact that Apple Inc. decided in the first place that it should control the wifi settings is most disheartening — especially coming from an organization like them.
I will look forward to hearing the readers thoughts if they think the iPhone’s wifi does not violate any of the design principles listed and that in fact the user is benefited by this iPhone wifi behavior.
Costello, S. 30 Tips to Extend iPhone Battery Life (Upated July 2018)
Haslam, K. How to improve iPhone & iPad battery life (June 2018)
Nielson, J. 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design (1995, Retrieved July 2018)
Author is a designer, startup co-founder, fiction novelist and a design educator. He can be reached at asadjunaid (at) gmail (dot) com