“I do feel like people are silently judging me. As in, I don’t know how to use my phone. But I’m in tech! I know how to use technology! I’m an early adopter,” says Wilson, who is 47. “So this is obviously a design problem on Apple’s part.”
Wilson is not alone. We heard from dozens of readers about their flashlight woes, and many more Twitter users, as young as 22.
The flashlight button has been on the iPhone’s lock screen for several years. It sits on the opposite side from a nearly identical button that turns on the camera and turns the light on with a bit of light pressure. Turning on the flashlight can drain a phone’s battery, flash in someone’s eyes or just be embarrassing. (To skip to our tips on how to make it happen less, scroll to the bottom.)
Apple declined to comment on the matter.
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To figure out why this was happening, I asked people struggling with the problem to demonstrate how they pick up and put away their phone. People who don’t have flashlight woes were careful not to touch the glass, holding their smartphone gingerly on the edges like a CD. The iPhone owners who did turn on their lights were more likely to hold on to the phone like it wasn’t a giant slab of touch-sensitive glass, gripping the front and the back of the device between their fingers.
People of all ages appear to struggle with this issue. Tori Daniels, 25, says they have been turning on the flashlight for years, most recently when they walked into a pitch-black room and realized it was illuminated by their back pocket. Daniels says it’s a button-placement issue by Apple more than a user error.
“I think it’s a comparable level to the fly-is-down thing. Not actually embarrassing. More like, ‘Oh, shoot. How long has that been happening?’ ” Daniels says.
Zain Jaffer, 34, is not a fan of strangers telling him his flashlight is on.
“I feel most people say it in a condescending tone. They will go out of their way to say ‘excuse me sir … your flashlight is on’ and then walk away with a smug smile. I think it’s the equivalent of driving a car and someone honks at you.”
Drew Turner, 40, doesn’t think people are judging him when the light is on, but it still stings when they say something. He keeps his phone in his back pocket, flashlight unknowingly pointing out for all to see.
“I guess I think it’s a me problem since it doesn’t seem to happen to everyone, but I don’t know what I’m doing differently,” Turner says.
Accidentally doing things on cellphones has a rich history dating back to butt-dialing. Calling someone inadvertently doesn’t happen as much since lock screens became common, but now we’re triggering other things on our smartphones.
Divya Goel, 25, says turning on the flashlight is a common problem in her friend group. But the flashlight doesn’t concern her as much as the camera, which once recorded a full 10-minute conversation from her pocket. “The accidental camera thing is a little unsettling to me,” she says.
Another common accidental iPhone problem is triggering SOS and calling 911, which can happen by pressing and holding the side button for too long.
But it’s the flashlight that seems to be the most common issue, perhaps because the outcome is the easiest to see.
Many people find the fickle button so frustrating that they’ve come up with their own ways to turn the light off. Some bypass the screen altogether and use Siri to turn off the light. (Try, “Hey, Siri, turn off flashlight.”)
Michael Wong, a 29-year-old VR start-up founder, toggles the camera on to quickly disable the light.
“I just swipe a bit to the right and it turns the flashlight off. It’s much easier to swipe a bit to the right than long-hold the flashlight button,” Wong says.
Tricks to turn your flashlight on less
Try these tricks one at a time to see if they help your problem. You can also watch my quick video version.
- Make it harder to press: Go to Settings → Accessibility → Touch → Haptic Touch. Set touch duration to “Slow.”
- Disable Tap To Wake: Go to Settings → Accessibility → Touch. Toggle off the Tap to Wake setting.
- Disable Raise to Wake: Go to Settings → Display & Brightness. Toggle off the Raise to Wake setting.
- Hold it differently: Grip your phone by the sides at all times, and assume the screen is always on.
- Get a Folio iPhone case: These cases include hard covers that fold over the screen, so there’s one more step to access it.
Chris Velazco contributed to this report.