iPhone “silent” switch is ignored by many applications

The iPhone has a “silent” switch on the left side. This is a physical switch that mutes the phone ringer text message notifications, new mail notifications, calendar alarms, etc. That might convince you that with the switch in the “silent” position, you can safely use your iPhone in a place where noise-making is unacceptable.


Many applications, including Apple-made applications, simply ignore this switch, and will gladly send their noises to the external speaker, angering everyone on the plane, or waking your sleeping wife (this one actually happened to me). The only safe way to silence the iPhone is to enable the “silent” switch and plug in some headphones.

Here are the Apple applications that ignore the switch:

  • Timer (Clock app)
  • Alarm (Clock app)
  • iPod
  • YouTube
  • Texas Hold’em

Here are some of the third party applications that ignore the switch:

  • At Bat (MLB)
  • Tap Tap Revenge
  • Phone Saber
  • Chopper
  • Pandora
  • AOL Radio

I’m willing to let the Timer/Alarm functions in the Clock app slide as exceptions. Alarms (and timers) are alarms, and they’re meant for waking people up. You don’t want to miss a flight because your alarm didn’t go off. But why do the YouTube and iPod apps make noise? Sure, there may not be many uses for watching them without sound, but consider that unless you quickly yank your headphones out of the jack, the “play/pause” functionality can be accidentally tiggered as the contacts are bridged, and the iPod application will start blasting out music. And there’s absolutely no excuse for the Texas Hold’em app to be making noise with the “silent” switch enabled.

I’m torn as to the proper solution to this problem. After all, I don’t think it is even possible for Mac OS X applications to make noise while audio output is muted (unless they directly manipulated the setting). So why shouldn’t the switch disable external audio output at the OS level? The only problem with doing that is the Alarm/Timer functionality. Perhaps there should be two ways to send external audio: the normal way (which the OS governs, using the “silent” switch), and the “emergency” way, which ignores the switch. It should be clear the the “emergency” way is only to be used for alarm type things that would be noticeably neutered if they had to obey the switch.

What other applications ignore this switch? Have you been embarrassed by unexpected iPhone noises?


  1. says

    I think Apple actually calls it a “ringer” switch, so, technically, all it should be muting is the ringer. But I agree that it should be a general “mute” switch, with the exception of things like alarm.

  2. Wayne says

    I was terribly surprised by the Alarm that went off in a meeting. But it really does make sense: by setting an alarm you are asking to be interrupted no matter what.

    It comes in especially handy at night — if you leave your iPhone on — since the new push email can “ding” throughout the night as you receive messages.

    As you say, no other apps shoudl ignore the switch. I would hope that Apple implemented the alarm function so that an application has to override the default behavior, and these other apps chose to override for whatever (poor) reason.

    What I’d love to see in the Calendar app:

    * Vibrate-only alarms that only vibrate, regardless of phone setting.

    * Ignore-silence alarms that will ring no matter how the phone is set.

    * Alarm repeat: if the alarm is not acknowledged, it will ring again in X minutes, repeating this up to Y times.

    * Support for properly copying an event’s color, based on the Mac/MobileMe calendar color. (Instead, it simply chooses colors from a rotating palette, meaning you’re probably going to get different colors on your iPhone than you get on your iCal and MobileMe.

  3. says

    Matt, Apple calls it the “Ring/Silent” switch. And even if they mean “Ring/No-ring”, it is standard phone/pda behavior that this switch silences all external audio output. Why would you want to silence the ringer, but not games? The point of the switch is to prevent embarrassment. It fails at that.

    Where do I file a bug? Anyone have a contact at Apple? To me, this is a major, major bug.

  4. says

    Send an e-mail to Steve Jobs. He staff has been known to bubble important issues up to the top. We’ll see. This is a major bug for me… I’m afraid to bring my iPhone to any place where audio output might be embarrassing. I can’t count on the Ring/Silent switch to save me from embarrassment, so I just have to shut the whole thing off.

    • Tracey Brimeyer says

      I too need a app like that! I work 3rd shift and sleep during the day, but need my kids to be able to wake me if the need me. I had one on my thunderbolt, it had a secret word that could be sent via text message to set phone alarm off for as long as 5 min to wake me incase of a emergency. This is the only app I can NOT find in the apple store!!

  5. says

    From the iPhone User Guide (Basics > Ring/Silent Switch):

    When set to ring mode, iPhone plays all sounds. When set to silent mode, iPhone doesn’t ring or sound any alerts or sound effects. Alarms set using Clock do sound, however.

    So, it does seem that everything should be silenced. I think this is more something to do with App developers (including Apple, I guess) that aren’t checking if the Silent switch is activated before playing sounds.

  6. Tom.boudreau@gmail.c says

    I made a bug for this exact problem on the ADC site: 6083228. I linked to this post for the piece out of the documentation which says how it should work.

    You guys should do the same here:

  7. Lauren says

    I have the opposite problem…my text message noise will not go off when on normal (not silent) so sometimes I don’t even notice I got a text when my phone is right next to me…my settings all say on…any help???

  8. flatrockdam says

    It would be nice to have an alarm application that could play a song from the iPhone as the alarm. Maybe this functionality should be built into the iPod app?

    But what do you do when you want to drop your iPhone by your bedside when you climb into bed with your mate?

    Flick the ringer switch to off.
    Go to Settings>Sound.
    Turn all vibrates to off.
    Slide volume to zero.
    and Plug something in to your headphone jack for good measure.

    That’s a lot of work!
    Can some one make an application that will bring us silence automatically? Apple?!

  9. aman says

    This is how it suppose to be. Turning off phone ringer doesn’t mean that alarm is off too. At nights I don’t want to be bothered by the phone so I turn off the ringer but I still need the alarm to wake up. This is a normal use case. If you think this is a bug then it is people like you that we have horrible design cell phones. You tube and other apps have nothing to do with the switch.

  10. Alexander says

    Can i programatically check that iPhone is in Silent Mode or Ring mode, if it is possible, then any hint or any idea that how can we check?


  11. says

    aman, read it again. I don’t have a problem with the alarm being unaffected. It’s games and the video player that don’t make sense. If you don’t want the ringer to make sound, you don’t want games or video to make sound either.

  12. bigcloits says

    “If you think this is a bug then it is people like you that we have horrible design cell phones.“

    Oh simmer down. I don’t think horrible cell phone design has anything to do with how I thing the Ring/Silent switch on the iPhone should work. And, although I wouldn’t call the current functionality a “bug”, it does seem like a failure to honor the universally accepted function of a mute button. I have a reasonable expectation that a switch with a “silent” setting will make a device, um, silent. No matter what. So that it’s safe in movie theaters and funerals and so on. It should not have to be necessary to power down the device to protect against this.

  13. says

    cant help but ask, and sorry to stroll in with a late post on an otherwise dead subject, but i just got my iphone and this nearly makes perfect sense..

    Why would you want to use youtube without the sound, what videos would you want to watch, without audio?

    my biggest gripe, however is that i am a heavy sleeper with a bad sleeping pattern and i sleep 3-5hrs a night, so require the vibration of the phone on my bed to aid the ringer in waking me up, if i set ringer off, phone calls still vibrate, but i cant afford not to have the vibrate on incase the ringer alone doesnt wake me, however an incoming call at 4 or 5am will disturb me through vibration. (i work but alot of friends are still at uni and dont understand that drunken 5am calls are never welcome on a work night).

    an app, or profile button that i could have on the “desktop”, that would set incoming calls and texts to not ring, or vibrate, but the alarm still rings and vibrates would be amazing.

    having only had the phone a day, maybe this feature is there, and i cant work it out, but if anyone with more experience who could shed some light would be brilliant.

    as much as i despised my nokia n95, the ability to create a sleep profile where incoming calls were blocked, but alarm ring and vibrate was sure to get me up in the morning was a plus point of a 2 year old+ phone over my state of the art iPhone.

  14. stephen says

    This is exactly why I miss my Blackberry. The iPhone is a great PDA, but just an OK phone (with the exception of conference call handling, etc). The BB had profiles that allowed the user to set conditions for all the sounds, and grouped them into profiles. Thus you could have one to turn off everything including vibrate, or any combination of vibrations or sounds for text, e-mail, calls, alarms, level 1 messages, etc, saved in multiple profiles with a user given name (such as Theater, Sleep, Quiet, Call Only, etc). Very useful indeed, although somewhat overkill IMO.

    I really miss this from the BB, and hope Apple does something similar. Even three basic profiles would be great (full quite, semi quiet, normal).

  15. RingoStarr says

    Just got an iphone and was impressed when I discovered the dedicated switch to stop the phone from making noise, not realising that many applications can override it.

    It’s a bit of a sledgehammer to crack an egg to put an actual physical switch on such a minimalist phone which acts purely on the ring and is very misleading, especially when the ring tone can be adjusted under both settings – sounds and with the volume controls on the side of the phone, so on that note I’d rather not have the switch at all.

    As for alarms, it wouldn’t bother me if the switch muted it (as it would still vibrate – lived with this sort of functionality for years with the SE P1i without problems) or you could have an option on the alarm to override the silent function if you’re the sort of person who wants a non-silent silent mode.

    But really as implemented, this silent switch is v bad and misleading. Very disappointing.

  16. Corné says

    I agree that it is not a bug, but do the Apple developers and designers use iPhones? I’m sure if they did they would agree that everyone need to silence their phones some time or another. If I cannot use a profile (Silent; Office; Outdoors; General etc.) then I should be able to use the hardware switch provided.

    I also agree to allow the alarm to ALWAYS override the switch, but give me an option to set the alarm volume!!! I always have the ringer on loud so in the morning I wake the entire house if I forget to turn it down before bed. And if I forget to turn it back up in the morning I miss important client calls!!! This is unacceptable and so easy to change.

  17. iGabby says

    The absence of a total silence option is really annoying. I used my iPhone Google app to look up something during a boring meeting and was embarrassed by loud music from a website.
    Now I only use my regular computer in silent settings so I can keep silent and listen while multitasking. IPhone NEEDS a “Silence All Applications” function in setting, but I don’t think the flip- switch should do this.

  18. ectospasm says

    The iPhone making ANY sounds with the “ringer” switch set to off is absolutely unacceptable. If I miss an alarm because my phone is on my desk and all the iPhone did was vibrate, so be it, I shouldn’t have left it in that state if I needed an audible alarm. I was in a movie theater when I had a reminder go off. Not a big deal but still unacceptable. My Palm Treo would simply vibrate if I had the mute switch, no matter what the alarm would be.

    I would allow a compromise if I could control which apps or alarms could override the switch. At this time I figure the only ones I’d allow are wake up alarms. Everything else should vibrate with no other sound.

  19. Roger says

    The bigger issue with the ring silence switch is that is is so easily moved.

    I cannot count the number of times I was waiting for a phone call only to find a voice message and the switch set to silent.

    In my environment, the vibe function is basically useless.

    IMHO there needs to be a software override for this switch.

  20. Michael Pickel says

    Apple has done a good, if incomplete job here. If anyone has had experience with Symbian phones, there is a wonderful “app” called Best Profiles. You can control various aspects of the phone (ringer, alarms, wallpaper, even Bluetoothe) when to go on and off, silence or, here’s the best part go silent for a pre-determined period of time, based on entries in your calender, while during a meeting from 1:00 to 2:30!!!!

    Unfortunately, Apple, it its “control-all” mentality has retained these functions and no App can be written that offers such functionality on the iPhone at this time. That’s too bad. Such an App is sorely needed.

  21. Michael Pickel says

    I just checked out the application listed on the penultimate post, “Auto Silent.” I was really excited until I noticed that it’s from Cyndia and it’s only for a hacked iPhone…. and as we know. Apple does not like us to hack “our” (their?) phone!

  22. Tudor says

    I am done waiting from Apple to provide automatic sound management.
    Yesterday I jailbroke my phone to install “Auto Silent” app from Cydia. What a relief, don’t need to remember to put into silent mode in night, meetings. And most importantly don’t need to remember to UnSilent phone back every morning and once I am done with meeting. I missed important calls because the phone was in silent mode.

    So far “Auto Silent” is doing great job. The app is well built and it’s hard to tell whether it is from Apple or 3rd party.

    ++ for the app.
    Apple either built such app or allow it on app store.

  23. ChriX says

    This is what I’ve found about the ringerswitch. I found this on the apple dev page. I was curious too why some apps ignored the ringerswitch.

    “The Ring/Silent Switch—What Users Expect”

    Avoid being interrupted by unexpected sounds, such as Phone ringtones and incoming message sounds.
    Avoid hearing sounds that are the byproducts of user actions, such as keyboard or other feedback sounds, incidental sounds, or application startup sounds.
    Avoid hearing game sounds, including incidental sounds and soundtracks, that are not essential to using the game.
    For example, in a theater users switch their devices to silent to avoid bothering other people in the theater. In this situation, users still want to be able to use applications on their devices, but they don’t want to be surprised by sounds they don’t expect or explicitly request, such as ringtones or new message sounds.

    However, the Ring/Silent switch does not silence sounds that result from user actions that are solely and explicitly intended to produce sound. For example:

    Media playback in a media-only application is not silenced by the Ring/Silent switch because the media playback was explicitly requested by the user.
    A Clock alarm is not silenced by the Ring/Silent switch because the alarm was explicitly set by the user.
    A sound clip in a language-learning application is not silenced by the Ring/Silent switch because the user took explicit action to hear it.
    Conversation in an audio chat application is not silenced by the Ring/Silent switch because the user started such an application for the sole purpose of having an audio chat.
    This behavior follows the principle of user control because it is up to the user, not the device, to decide whether it’s appropriate to hear sounds the user explicitly requests.

    • NewUser says

      “This behavior follows the principle of user control because it is up to the user, not the device, to decide whether it’s appropriate to hear sounds the user explicitly requests.”

      Cracks me up — I decided I didn’t want to hear any sounds, so I flipped the switch. But the device (and the app) decided when it’s appropriate to hear sounds, not me.

      Why would anyone be surprised that playing a video with the switch off would NOT produce sound? If you want to hear it through the speaker, flip the switch ON! What if I don’t want to hear it? Tough cookies, there is no recourse, you cannot turn it off (only turn it down).

      It’s totally broken and a foolish design. It’s trivial to turn it on if you need the sound. It’s cumbersome to mute the sound (in a hurry) when you’re caught by surprise (in a movie or meeting, etc.).

      I’ve been hunting for a way to disable the speaker and am amazed at all the people who think the way it works now is correct. Unbelievable.

  24. Daniel says

    Earlier on today I decided to watch a Youtube video on my iPhone, whilst at work.

    Unfortunately I hadn’t read this article beforehand and mistakenly believed the silent switch would silence my work-shying crime.

    Imagine the embarrassment when the music started blaring out for everyone to hear.

    Cheers Apple.