Phones Need Performance Mode for Silence
The award for greatest public embarrassment experienced in 2012 so far must go to the New York Philharmonic season-ticket holder sitting in the front row of Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center whose iPhone produced a continuous marimba sound because of an alarm going off — until the conductor stopped the orchestra and the patron managed to turn it off.
The concertgoer had just been issued the iPhone by his company the day before, swapping out a BlackBerry, and he had no idea an alarm was set, according to a New York Times account. But is it his fault? I examined this issue, talking with usable design guru Donald Norman (once a key figure at Apple before Jobs’s return), for an item in the Economist.
Is it the phone owner’s fault? By his telling, he dutifully flipped the mute switch on the iPhone to the silent position. But alarm sounds override mute. This makes some sense: you don’t set an alarm to forget it. John Gruber comes out in favor of the current mute behavior at Daring Fireball. Andy Ihnatko suggests that everyone’s expectation of muting is different, and thus no particular behavior can ever be correct except the one you want. He also points out that there is a completely silent setting: it’s called “turning the phone off.”
Andy notes that Apple’s insistence on simplicity, and usually rightly so, means that we can’t customize our phone to match our expectations. It would require a bunch of switches, and everyone’s would be slightly different. Google might offer this with Android, or allow developers to control muting behavior, but Apple prefers less complication, even if that’s less ideal for everyone.
There’s a simple way out that wouldn’t involve more complexity, just one more switch in the Settings app: Performance Mode, just below Airplane Mode. Airplane Mode disables all radios on an iPhone: cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and even the passive GPS receiver. (You can re-enable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth separately, however.)
Performance Mode would let you tap, set a duration or a range (conceivably being tied in to the Calendar app, even), and disable all audio of any kind during that period. It could also dim the backlighting so that if you fire up the phone, it’s minimally disturbing to others, and set vibration to the least buzzy setting.
One can see other technological solutions as well. While GPS doesn’t work well indoors, a combination of weak GPS signals and interior Wi-Fi networks allows placement close enough to know if someone is inside or at least near a performance venue or a movie theater. A mobile phone could even give you a popup warning when you enter a true silence zone: “While in this location, all alarms and sounds are muted unless you tap Override for 1 Hour now.”
None of this is perfect. But isn’t it worth trying to preserve a little silence in places where such quiet is golden? The industry could step up to the plate, with Google and Apple leading the batting order.
Further Thoughts — Comments came fast and furious on this article both here and on Twitter. I wanted to address some of them for further discussion.
Nitrozac and Snaggy at Joy of Tech weigh in with this appropriate cartoon: “To Mute or Not To Mute?”
“It’s the Ring/Silent switch, and if you can’t figure that out, you shouldn’t use the phone.” On page 146 of Apple’s iOS 5 for iPhone manual (PDF), the firm’s explanation of the switch should show why such statements are a little over the top. “When set to silent, iPhone doesn’t play any ring, alert, or effects sounds. It does, however, play Clock alarms.” Read that a few times, and make sure you’ve got it: a ring, alert, or effects sound is not a Clock alarm.
“You set the alarm; you’re responsible for the sound it makes when it goes off.” This is partly true. In iOS, at least, and I’m not sure how much on other phone platforms, the operation is asymmetrical. When you set an alarm, you can choose a sound. But it’s not clear when you set the sound, unless you’ve Read The Friendly Manual carefully, that a Clock alarm won’t be muted when you set the Silent switch. Commenters and others have suggested iOS should alert you when setting an alarm while the Silent switch is engaged that the alarm will sound, and that switching from Ring to Silent should bring up a dialog or notification (even though you can make the change without looking at the screen). I’d add that you can tell
an alarm is active because of the tiny alarm clock icon in the status bar at the top of the screen. But is that enough to jog a non-techie person’s memory that a sound might go off later?
“The guy set the alarm, so he should have known it would happen.” Apple makes it relatively clear when you’re setting an alarm precisely when it will go off. However, cut the guy some slack: he was given the phone the day before as a recovering BlackBerry user. Presumably, someone else set the alarm (perhaps in demonstrating the phone for him?). Or the alarm’s event could have been set for a different time zone, an inconvenience we sometimes run into with the group TidBITS calendar to which the staff subscribes. Since he was a Philharmonic subscriber, he knew precisely where he would be at that time: listening to the last movement of Mahler’s Ninth.
“People need to know how to use the hardware they buy.” This is true to an extent. But as Adam wrote in “Have We Entered a Post-Literate Technological Age?” (18 August 2009), many people today — including younger folk, who we think should be hip to this stuff — don’t have to learn the basics of computing, because the tools work better. An iPhone can be picked up and used without a demonstration. It comes with no manual, just a link to read one online. The subtle distinction of a mute that doesn’t mute everything may be too much to ask.
“Turn the damn thing off.” This is absolutely an option, and a sensible one in the right circumstance. As a parent of small children sometimes having high-school-age babysitters taking care of the tykes, I’m often in a situation in which being able to receive a message or an alert — and then exiting the theater or hall when it’s appropriate and possible — prevents a difficult situation at home. It also reassures my wife and me that in case of an emergency, we’re reachable. We don’t fiddle with our phones. Our parents, of course, had no such option. They would leave the number of the performance space, movie theater, restaurant, and so forth, and go blissfully on their way. By contrast, when I took a meditation course
recently on nights that my wife also had obligations, she and I arranged that she would be the emergency contact. I turned my phone off — and then my mind.
“People who can’t figure out how to prevent an alarm from sounding wouldn’t sort out a Performance Mode switch, either.” Having suggested this, I tend to disagree. On airplanes, flight attendants and airline information ask that you power down your phone, and then only use it above 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) with Airplane Mode engaged, if your phone has one. Every live and taped performance I’ve been to has sometimes lengthy instructions about silencing a phone. Instead, they could say, “If your phone features a performance mode to silence all alarms, rings, and extraneous vibrations, please enable that now.”
It's easy to propose such elaborate "modes" in theory. In practice, you'd have to take into account all sorts of side effects, like malicious attacks or unwanted advertising.
And remember: "Too many modes/preferences" is one thing that killed Linux on the desktop.
How would a Performance Mode be subject to unwanted advertising?
I was hit by this in a cinema once when an alarm went off and I even didn't realize at first it was *my* phone that made that ugly noise, since I had engaged the mute switch after all. Bugger!
All in all though I agree both with Apple and with Gruber: Muting other sounds (like the phone ringing) makes sense since you have no idea when someone is going to call you. An alarm though is something you've set all by yourself and so you should know about it. If you really want to make sure to hear *nothing* at all, just shut the thing down.
And yes, I have more than once forgotten I did mute the thing and would have been very annoyed when I'd have slept over an alarm in the morning then.
The behaviour of that switch surely is a thing you need to learn. But you will learn it at the first occasion and you surely won't forget it anymore then.
Seriously, you can't turn the damn thing off for the duration of a concert? That's the Theater Mode you need.
I can't. I'm a parent. If there's an emergency, I need to be able to leave a theater. But I don't want to disrupt anyone else's experience. Same is true for professionals on call.
On the other hand, when I took a meditation class last fall, I made sure that no one needed me for two whole hours, and turned the phone fully off.
But you should be able to make sure that no alarm or timer is firing when you're in the theater. After all these are things *you* will have set.
You're missing the point. I'm a savvy user. I can look at the status bar at the top and see an active alarm or timer, and remember to go turn that off.
The vast majority of smartphones users are regular people who don't care about all the minutiae. They don't want to manage settings. "Mute" = mute to them, not "mute except alarm."
So it's not obvious until you encounter the situation what will happen.
An explicit mode, like Performance Mode, would make implicit assumptions clear.
By the same token those users may not even know there was a "performance mode" much less how it differs from mute or airplane mode.
How about a popup notification if you mute while an alarm is set that gives you the option to disable the alarm or ignore?
Ah, but the difference is that when you get on a plane, the flight attendants suggest you turn on Airplane Mode when you turn your phone back on.
Likewise, a universal Performance Mode switch would be easier to discuss in the way that there are always cell phone silencing announcements before every movie, show, and concert.
The popup notice doesn't work because you can enable mute without looking at the phone.
The phone gives a long buzz when you mute it to handle the case of not looking at the screen. The alert would either replace or add to that a short double buzz. So you don't need to look at the screen to get the alert (although you would have to look at it to do anything about it).
Training performance halls to explain that there is a performance mode setting that is different than the mute switch seems a utopian fantasy (ok, a little hyperbolic, but I just don't see them doing it).
So, even though you are a parent, there ARE times you can turn off your iPhone - such as in a meditation class, or when you are in an airplane.
Well, then. A concert should be another instance.
I have to make a variety of arrangements for those other times, though. It's not life threatening (my children don't have medical conditions), but it is convenient if and when I can set the phone in a predictable manner to not annoy other people.
I object to this.
You are not entitled to "having it all". If you cannot leave your home without being available at all time (as all our parents and grandparents did before the advent of cell phones) you'll have to give up concerts.
If you cannot ensure your phone is 100% off you do not belong in a concert. No excuses. You are not entitled. You (and your kids) are not more important than other listeners at the concert.
That assumes that technology cannot be adapted (as I discuss in this article) to prevent disrupting others.
You're reacting as if I want to make phone calls and surf the Web during performances. I simply want to avail myself of a good tool for emergencies without bothering anyone else.
Technology has already adapted. There's a mute button and its functionality is thoroughly described in the user manual. Apple has made a decision regarding functionality vs. simplicity and what you have in your hands is the result. You may dream about your favorite functionality all day long, but ultimately you bought Apple's design choice, not your dream.
If you are not able to use that technology properly you cannot take it to a concert. OTOH if you cannot be without that device which you are not capable of operating properly you shouldn't go to concerts, libraries, etc.
These are privileges. You earn the right to both through proficiency and common courtesy to others. You are entitled to neither.
Why all the anger?
It's all a pointless stand. People will take their phones everywhere. Why not improve the design to help them instead of shaking your fist?
Actually the angry people were the ones who had their concert ruined by an idiot. Their anger is 100% justified.
The problem with your idea is that you cannot make things 100% idiot-proof. Apple put a lot of thought into their design. Making it functional and simple so that even the less gifted can use an iPhone. And yet, especially challenged individuals cannot even handle that. There is no end to this cycle. There will always be one more thing that needs to be added in order to prevent something for somebody who doesn't care to read a manual or think about others.
The point here is that the jerk who ruins an entire concert for everybody in that hall is the problem. Not Apple, not his company, not anybody else. No amount of technology can install consideration and courtesy in such an individual. If incidents like this become common, concert halls will either use jammers (illegal in some places) or require people to drop their cell phones at the checkroom. Users' call.
RTFM and see that this is the Ring/Silent switch (NOT mute) and see the note that clock alarms will sound. No sympathy for someone who can't read about the basics of operation when they get a new device.
We're having a mismatch in how this is looked at. I am pointing out the reality of how most people interact with their devices. You're unsympathetic that someone isn't an expert. There are a million things an iPhone does. Setting an alarm is easy than realizing the alarm will go off audibly when the mute switch is on.
I've had an iPhone since 2007, and I honestly never thought about the mute button being the "Ring/Silent" switch, and have been surprised when an alarm sound goes off.
This is nonsense. There is no need whatsoever to be an 'expert' to operate the silent mode or to turn a phone, even the iPhone off.
Only a modicum of rational thought is required to realise that it would make no sense that a mute function would also cancel self set alarms. That would be just silly.
I have no sympathy for this person at the concert. They should have been ejected and banned for a year.
This is indeed nonsense.
If somebody cannot operate his/her phone properly, they do not belong in a concert. If you go to a concert it is your obligation to not ruin it for others. If you cannot ensure your phone is totally silent, that is YOUR problem, not Apple's, not the orchestra's, not anybody else's. It's your responsibility, stop deferring it to others via lame excuses.
And again, you are not entitled. Neither to concerts nor to cell phones. If you want to make use of both, earn that right by acquiring the necessary proficiency.
Most people don't buy an iPhone and then immediately read the instructions. (And the only 'manual' for an iPhone is the online help tucked away in a bookmark in Safari.)
I'd also argue that the point of modern technology's intuitive nature is that one doesn't have to become an expert to use a sophisticated device. It's incredibly elitist to make it a requirement that every person who uses a device must learn and master every feature before using it. (Perhaps fines if they can't pass a test.)
Well then they shouldn't take it to a concert now, should they?
Re the point about turning the damned thing off: maybe this works with an iPhone (I wouldn't know, I don't have one) but my vanilla unsmart Nokia just turns itself on when an alarm goes off, so you can set an alarm to wake you in the morning, then turn the phone off so you don't get disturbed by any calls or texts, but the alarm will still wake you.
Likewise my Nokia somewhat smart phone and the very basic Motorola phone I use in China. I like this feature and did not previously think about how careful I must now be to make sure the alarm is off for performances. An alarm set for 7 a.m. will not be a problem but one to remind me that my parking meter has expired might.
Theater mode is called "slide to power off"
You're not a parent, clearly. I don't want to leave my phone on, but I typically need to leave my phone on.
Even if you have children:
1. You don't leave your iPhone on when your airplane is on the runway taking off or when it is landing.
2. You don't leave your iPhone on when in a concert. If you can't turn it off, then don't go. Period.
The amount of sympathy in the comments here is exceptional. And binary.
Honestly, when I'm capable of being reached in an emergency, I prefer to be available to be reached, because I love my children.
Because I configure my phone to my knowledge to not annoy anyone else, I leave it silenced and on in case of emergency.
The iPhone and other phones don't made it obvious to users, even sophisticated ones, precisely what the outcome behavior is of certain actions. The alarm-overrides-silence option is clearly one of those.
Why not just call it Silent Mode? A reminder could pop up wrt alarms when SM is invoked.
That being said I would like to comment on the more general theme here and let me say up front that I do not intend to be cruel, just thought provoking.
What does this have to do with loving our children? Whether or not we are reached at the theater will not effect the care of our children in a life threatening situation. Do you have some special medical knowledge? On top of that, the odds of something actually happening while at the theater are incredibly small. Why are we okay with the enormous risk of simply driving our children in a car across town, but get all worked up over being reachable during a concert when our accessibility will have no consequential effect on the outcome. Besides, if the situation is that critical, the doctors can call the theater, just like people have done for decades. None of us are as important as we think we are.
Valid points, and worth discussing. My children fortunately do not have medical conditions that crop up regularly. Nor do I want to be interrupted at a performance by a sequence of text messages, alerts, and phone calls.
My point is to the contrary. I have the most sophisticated technology ever developed, and I can carry it in my pocket. If it is possible to make it be silent and still as the grave except in case of emergency, I want to avail myself of that. I am not sitting there anxiously checking it. Rather, I forget it is there unless there is a call.
We have, in fact, been reached by cell phone when a minor (non-life-threatening problem) has come up with a sitter. My wife or I goes somewhere in a lobby or outside and deals with it. It happens rarely. But because the technology should not and does not need to intrude on me when nothing is happening, I think of it as a benefit to be reached in an unlikely event.
Further, when we hire a high-school aged babysitter, part of our arrangement with his or her parents is that we will be reachable (so they are off the hook) in case of a problem. That is for their safety and benefit as well as ours with our kids.
The other part of this is that you may discuss this with me and I may or may not agree with you. But tens of millions of people are always going to carry their phone into theaters. Shouldn't we have a solution for people who won't turn their phone off, given that it is a problem of interface, not of technical ability?
Now, of course, I could have played a different card and said, I'm a professional who is effectively on call 24 hours a day (general-practice doctor, hospital nurse, psychiatrist, firefighter, law enforcement, information technology).
Well I'm definitely not an overprotective parent. Jeez, listen to yourself. Generations of parents had kids without being reachable 24/7. Yet you try to make this an argument why somebody's phone ruining the concert is everybody's problems but the user's.
It's that concert-goer's fault.
1. He could have simply turned off his iPhone.
2. He could have simply turned down the volume to zero. Thus, even if an alarm was set, there would be no sound from the alarm.
3. He could have stuck a headset on the iPhone. This would have routed any alarms to the headset, which wouldn't be audible.
It is his fault. Period.
I haven't had unwanted sounds in a performance, but since I use my iPhone to listen to iTunes U lectures to go to sleep, and as an alarm to wake up to, I'm sensitive to how difficult it is to keep it from making noise at unwanted times. I usually put it in Airplane Mode at night, but sometimes I forget, leaving me open to being woken by a Boxcar notification. And even still, calendar reminders that trigger at midnight are problematic - we never set them intentionally, but it still seems to happen occasionally.
Agree with the performance-mode idea. And this article suggests an ad-hoc standard where venues could include a code-word in their public-wifi IDs (or perhaps some other wifi metadata) that indicated "use performance mode around me." Obviously manufacturers would need to support it, but in time, with buy-in, the problem could solve itself transparently.
As I was walking into a movie on Friday I remarked to my wife that I wish a theatre, church, or other venue could broadcast a signal that would completely silence my iPhone (or any phone). It would be an app, I think, and let me decide the parameters on its behavior. I just like the idea.
Failing that, a location service that could do the same would be nice.
I'm with Andy on this. There's a fix; Apple just needs to think of it.
We've gotten so used to Apple making things dummy proof that when an Apple device behaves differently than expected, we freak out.
Luckily for me, Apple ensures the phone vibrates at the same time the alarm sounds or I never would feel it beneath my pillow in the early morning when I'm not wearing my hearing aids.
I loved my children before I had a cell phone. I still went to movies. Because a thing exists does not demand it be used. How do we feel about car horns?
And when you went to the movies, unless you were leaving your children with family, you likely provided a fair amount of information to the sitter about how to reach you in case of an emergency (which rarely happened).
I think a cell phone is a multi-edge sword (very dangerous) that allows technology to assist in making life better, even though there are constant opportunities to make it worse.
Being able to be in touch in the case of a problem without it being a whole rigamarole for either the sitter, the theatre, or my wife and I is a real advantage. We rarely hear from a sitter; when we do, we're glad we could.
At TEDGlobal we were asked not to look at our smart phones during the talks, because it reminds everyone who saw us of their world outsidem and bloggers etc had to sit at the back. These are ideas worth spreading.
The etiquette of phone usage during social activity is one to teach children and team members: my message is
"different people have different expectations about this, and some people find it very rude to start using a phone while in a meal, meeting, having a conversation, while others regard it as fine. Like how being late in Germany is the height of rudeness, and in other cultures its "not too bad". So if your phone rings or you get a message when interacting with someone, at least ask: "do you mind?" before reading. If you wouldn't ask your boss, you are showing a little disrespect.
The idea that you "ought" to read the manual is crazy. Phones and PCs have the capacity to get you into trouble in different ways. Everyone learns this by trial and painful error
Just got an iphone, 2nd hand, and I'm learning how to use it. Haven't yet had a chance to read the manual, but have played with the settings. I would love a simple Performance setting that I could set for however many hours/minutes I wanted. But it seems an Advanced button for "geek tweaking" would be appropriate.
I have a used iPhone 3G. I know how to use it, but I can't. Apple and AT&T refuse to unlock it so I can use it with my T-Mobile account. It's just an iPod now. Too bad. I already have an iPod Touch that I really like, unlike the iPhone.
I find the lack of intelligent settings for the iPhone very frustrating, insulting, and downright hostile to the end user. It's astonishing that nobody at Apple considered providing an alarm setting that is automatically compatible with a 'meeting' or 'silent' profile.
I'm waiting for Apple products to return to being more user friendly as they used to be. I might consider an iPhone if I could do simple basic settings that I can do now on a Symbian or Android phone.
Still waiting for Apple to get with it...
I love my Nokia phone!!
I don't have an iPhone, but on my phone, an alarm will ring even if I have it turned off. I use it a lot as an alarm clock. Maybe this is different on the iPhone if it is an iCal alarm, but isn't there some sort of alarm clock on the iPhone as well?
Realised somebody made the same point higher up in the comments only after posting...
Yet ANOTHER reason NOT to have an iPhone.
Setting the alert volumes is SO EASY on my Nokia phone. I can define exactly what "silent" means. I can take their default, or I can make my own. It literally takes seconds.
Apple is making a very simple task appear to be too complicated, because the owner sets the controls, not Apple. It's all about [their] control, not about the customer doing simple settings and avoiding embarrassment.
I love my Nokia [Symbian] phone!!!
Even a gloater owning a Nokia phone has the same issue: either Nokia default the silent switch to turn off the alarm and some people will miss their appointments; or they default it to on and people will be surprised in concerts.
I can set each kind of alert at different volumes in the same profile. I create profiles with my chosen defaults [only 5].
I don't miss appointments from using the wrong setting, since I can also set a time for a silent profile to expire and return to my regular profile. I also have a profile for travel so I can leave my phone turned on, but remain offline [Apple calls it "airplane mode"].
I could do that on all the cell phones I've ever owned, from dumb to smart to smarter. I don't gloat about it, just stating a fact.
Apple could provide the same, but they don't. The question is: why can't Apple do what so many of us take for granted?
Well your comments sure sound like you're a Nokia fan trying to use this incident as an excuse to rave about how much you prefer your brand.
But you've completely missed my point--if Joe Opera doesn't know 'silent' won't silence his alarm, how on earth is he meant to understand 5 profiles, and how they expire and automatically switch from one to another?
Apple excels at making devices which are simple to use. If that doesn't float your boat, cool, but we're knocking around ideas about how Joe Opera could avoid embarrassing himself 24 hours into owning a new phone.
When I worked for Apple, they were almost as secretive to their employees. We rarely got enough information about products we were supposed to be using and promoting to prospective customers. It wasn't like that before Steve Jobs locked everything down and made it much worse. That's why I question whether Apple respects its customers enough to provide simple information like alert settings that won't embarrass them in public.
Yes, I still have Apple products that I use every day. I've been seriously considering either keeping my Macs running as long as possible without replacement, or finding something less intrusive, more considerate of users' intelligence.
LCD design--lowest common denominator--is really hurting creative and science professionals. I doubt that Apple wants us any more.
Are you kidding me? An
All this hooha about coming up with app because someone isn't smart enough to turn the damn phone off before the symphony starts?
The phone is smart alright - it's the human who is deficient, and needs more than an app on the phone
My main issue with "performance mode" is the name. It sounds like something that makes your phone go faster. :-)
It's worth pointing out that many other phones, including my ageing Nokia, actually sound the alarm even if the phone is turned off let alone muted.
I'm sure they spend hours at Apple agonising over these things, but, given that people's needs and expectations are very varied in this case, it would make seem to make sense for these settings to be more configurable.
This could either be a general setting ('Mute means mute'), or it could be an option when you create an alarm ('This alarm is muted by mute button: yes/no'). Not hard.
For me, my expectation was that the mute button should mute everything. When you want to be reading the cast list, it's a bore to have to check whether you have alarms set. I would be happy to turn the phone off and back on if it didn't take so long to do both of these operations (it does, compared to most other things, and I don't really care why; it just makes it inconvenient enough to make me not want to do it.)
In the same way, the connectivity options on an iPhone makes no sense to me, or at least don't work in the way I want them to. For example, I don't fly, so I never need the blanket Airplane mode. On the other hand, in my home, I get no phone signal at all; so the phone uses a lot of energy trying to find one, but I use it constantly on WiFi without the phone network, and it takes multiple operations to put it into that state.
Then again when I'm out in the UK, the phone tries to use the completely useless O2 public WiFi, so I often turn this off and just use 3G, as it's genuinely faster. I'd like an instant setting for that state.
Your experience and needs will of course vary.
I'd use something like a Locations Manager where I could keep a number of settings dependent on where I am and what I'm doing. And, one you have that, you can have your 'Concert mode' which, if you you like, mutes ALL sounds, diverts calls to answer service, but vibrates subtly - or however you want it.
Ian you hit the nail on the head. Your first 2 paragraphs say it all. What a Great, simple solution.
There will always be arguments about what defaults should be set for any function. And many (most?) users won't venture to even look at their options let alone a manual.
But in the end I don't think "simplicity" trumps functionality. And while it there might be some logic behind it: There's NOTHING simple about a mute button that doesn't mute.
I like your idea that it be linked to the event when you set it in your calendar program. If you know that a performance will last a certain length of time, then it could automatically set itself to performance mode during the event - and revert back to the previous mode afterward. If you had an event during that time with an alarm, your calendar program should be smart enough to alert you of that right then.