Why Control Center no longer turns off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in iOS 11

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Bluetooth in iOS 11
In iOS 11, AirPods (and other Apple accessories) remain connected, even when you hit the Bluetooth "off" switch.
Photo: Cult of Mac

It used to be so simple: If you swiped open the iOS Control Center and tapped the Bluetooth icon, then Bluetooth would be toggled on or off. That was it, and the same went for Wi-Fi.

In iOS 11, tapping the same Bluetooth button doesn’t do that. Instead, the Control Center Bluetooth button disconnects your iPhone or iPad from connected Bluetooth accessories, leaving the actual Bluetooth radio on. What’s more, not all accessories get disconnected. Just what in the blazes is going on here?

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in iOS 11

The toggles look the same, but they don't act the same.
The toggles look the same, but they don’t act the same.
Photo: Cult of Mac

First, you can still disconnect the old-school way, by heading to the Settings apps and switching things off there. This kills the radios for both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and they stay off until you switch them back on again.

However, the iOS Control Center is a different game. The idea of this change is that you can disconnect from connected devices, but not lose all Bluetooth functionality. So, when you “disconnect” Bluetooth in the new iOS 11 Control Center, you remain connected to your AirPods, your Apple Pencil and your Apple Watch. You also retain access to things like Handoff, Instant Hotspot, AirDrop, AirPlay and location services (this last is related to Wi-Fi).

In practical terms, this is a smart choice. After all, you usually switch off Bluetooth to disconnect a speaker or keyboard, but then find that you can’t send a file over AirDrop, or that you can no longer draw with your Apple Pencil. Let’s look at a typical scenario.

Everyday Bluetooth problems

Say you’re working on your iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard, listening to music with AirPods. You pick up the iPad and go to the bathroom to lay a cable. You want to tweet something, but the iPad’s on-screen keyboard doesn’t appear, because the iPad remains connected to the hardware keyboard in the other room.

The old way: Toggle Bluetooth, and lose the music in your AirPods.

The new way: Toggling Bluetooth kicks the keyboard off the “network,” but your music remains.

Another idea: You try to use Siri, but discover you’re still connected to a Bluetooth speaker downstairs, one with a microphone, so Siri is currently listening to that. Now you can bump the speaker, but keep everything else connected.

Better when you know

If you know what’s happening, this change is very welcome. The new functionality is actually much less disruptive in many common situations. We now have many Bluetooth devices connected to our phones, and we might not really think of them as Bluetooth. They’re just there.

However, if you don’t know, you might think you’re still switching off Bluetooth when in fact it is still switched on. So make sure to tell your friends and family about this change.

What about the Wi-Fi?

The iOS 11 Wi-Fi toggle works much the same. Toggle it off, and it now disconnects from any network you are connected to. The Wi-Fi icon will also dim. Auto-joining of networks also will be disabled. But it can switch itself back on again. Apple provides a list of triggers on its support page:

  • You turn on Wi-Fi in Control Center.
  • You connect to a Wi-Fi network in Settings > Wi-Fi.
  • You walk or drive to a new location.
  • It’s 5 AM local time.
  • You restart your device.

Of these, my favorite is the “5 AM local time” trigger. The others all seem very sensible, but reconnecting your Wi-Fi at 5 a.m. is pure Apple. Maybe it’s to run an iCloud backup, or to grab the day’s news, or just because you’ll probably forget to turn it back on otherwise. Whatever the reason, you have no choice in it. Some folks will love that it just happens. Others will be driven crazy, which makes it a classic Apple design decision.

For completeness, here are the triggers that will switch full Bluetooth auto-connectivity back on:

  • You turn on Bluetooth in Control Center.
  • You connect to a Bluetooth accessory in Settings > Bluetooth.
  • It’s 5 AM local time.
  • You restart your device.

So, now you know. Spread the word, and enjoy these clever new iOS 11 Control Center tweaks.

  • MattFolleysVan

    How about just clicking on ‘Airplane Mode’? That seems to turn off everything.

    • DMG35

      Actually, it doesn’t.

      • Josh

        How so? Please elaborate.

      • Jon Anscher

        I’ve confirmed, hitting airplane mode does turn off Bluetooth and Cellular, but doesn’t seem to turn off WiFi. Maybe because airplanes allow WiFi now?

  • downtownharold

    I’m sorry..did you say “you go to the bathroom to lay a cable”? Is that what the kids are calling that these days? Sweet Baby Jesus.

  • Wraith

    Sounds pretty nice but my real concern is about battery life, does this dormant state consume more battery than fully switching off ?

    • Richard Liu

      Anyone who concern about power consumption should have this basic knowledge:

      Cellular (poor signal) >> Cellular (good signal) > WiFi >> Bluetooth (connected) >>>> Bluetooth (standby).

      A generic cellular module under steady data transmission status would draw about 600~700mA under good signal condition, and 1A~2A under poor signal condition.

      Wifi module would draw average 150~250mA (milliamp, 1/1000A) when connected.

      Bluetooth module would draw average 10mA when connected, and 25µA (microamp, 1/1000000 A) in standby mode, which is 1/10000 of power consumption of connected Wifi, or 1/80000 of power consumption of 4G/LTE data link under poor signal condition.

      It’s really laughable to turn off Bluetooth “to save power”.

      • Carlos

        Thanks for the tip! I thought having Bluetooth off would save a reasonable amount of power. Knowing this, I’ll leave it on.

      • Wraith

        Good to know, thanks for the info.!

  • Chris

    Unfortunately AirPods cannot connect or stay connected when the Bluetooth toggle is off :( Sounds nice, but I’m not sure where you got that idea.

    • NapMan

      I just tried it. You are correct.

  • DetroitBuckeye

    May be common knowledge, but if you long-press the icon in the upper right corner of the music box in that control center, it opens another box that lets you choose which device to play audio (such as AirPods). This is handy, and eliminates the need to go into the Settings app.

  • Big money

    This article was the worst article ive read since the articles of confederation back in 1782 when i was stil young and spry. IOS 11 was created by the illuminati to control our fears of text based communication and keep the free man down. 9/11 was an inside job and bush is a muslim