Control Center

Earlier this week, in a Mac blogger beef worthy of Wiz Khalifa and Kanye West, Stephen Hackett and John Gruber had a disagreement over the value of iOS’s Control Center. Mr. Hackett took the anti-CC side,

I don’t think this has aged very well, unfortunately, and it’s mostly Control Center’s fault. In addition to it being confusing to have a hidden panel at the top of the screen, having one at the bottom too is a lot to handle for some users. But there’s a bigger problem in my mind: Control Center just does way too many things.

while Mr. Gruber took the pro.

I couldn’t disagree more strenuously. Control Center is probably my single favorite system-level UI change to iOS ever.

While I find young Stephen’s arguments well written, I side with the more well-seasoned Gruber on this matter. I use Control Center all the time, and although there are improvements I’d like to see, I find it both useful and well designed. There is one significant design inconsistency, but it doesn’t bother me.

Control Center

Of the top row of buttons, I use the Airplane Mode, WiFi1 and Orientation Lock buttons frequently and the Bluetooth and Do Not Disturb buttons not at all. They’re all easy to reach, easy to distinguish from one another, and obvious in their state. Unlike the notorious Shift/Cap Lock key, these buttons have never been accused of being confusing.

Although I don’t use them myself, I don’t think the Bluetooth and Do Not Disturb buttons are a mistake; I’m sure there are plenty of people who use them. In fact, I probably should use Do Not Disturb in many situations when I currently flip the hardware Mute switch. In particularly quiet areas, it would be better if my phone didn’t buzz with the vibration of incoming texts and email.

I also fiddle with the brightness setting a few times a week at least. The automatic brightness setting does a reasonably good job of adjusting to ambient light, but sometimes there’s just no substitute for setting it by hand.

The audio controls in the middle section are surprisingly versatile in that they control whatever audio app you happen to be using. Yes, they provide a lowest common denominator of controls, but they are clever enough to adopt the current app’s definition of skip forward and skip backward. When I’m listening to a podcast in Pocket Casts, for example, the double-headed arrows are mapped to jumping ahead 60 seconds and back 15 seconds.

I never use the AirDrop control and seldom use the AirPlay control. Sharing with other iOS users just doesn’t come up (although I do keep it on just in case), and iOS almost always connects to nearby Bluetooth speakers automatically—no need for me to do anything.

Of the bottom row, I use the Flashlight fairly often, the Camera a few times a month at most, and the others not at all. If I were the sort of person who set Timers—instead of using Siri to set timed Reminders—I could see myself using the Timer button. And, as Gruber said, if I could remap the Calculator button to launch PCalc, I’d probably use it.

As it is, Control Center is a sort of poor man’s Launch Center Pro—definitely useful to many of us, but something that could really flourish with just a little customization. I like the limitation of having just a few available slots, but being able to replace the “dead” spots with buttons I’d actually use would be a big improvement. App developers would have to come up with new icons to fit the Control Center aesthetic, but I’m sure they’d jump at the chance to get their apps in there.

And the design inconsistency I mentioned earlier? The buttons on the top do a single thing and they do it immediately—they do not launch apps. The buttons on the bottom do launch apps, which is why the have the rounded rectangle shape of app icons. The exception, the inconsistency, is the Flashlight button. It belongs on the top. I can only assume that Apple put it where it is because they wanted six “do it now” buttons but had room to fit only five comfortably. It’s a minor inconsistency, but it wouldn’t be necessary if we could customize our button layouts.

  1. I turn off WiFi when I’m in a hotel or restaurant that has a slow network. I always start by signing into their WiFi, hoping for a good connection, but am often disappointed. In those situations, the fastest way to get back on LTE is to open Control Center and toggle WiFi off.