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iPhone 101: Switching sound off (or down)

Today's iPhone 101 is all about audio volume. You may think that the volume toggle and the mute switch on the side of your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch are the beginning and end of noise control, but it turns out there's more to the iOS sound story.

You can get some volume management by plugging in a pair of headphones; that mutes the main speaker but also redirects your primary output to the headphones. When placed on your desk, you still may hear tiny bits of sound from the ear pieces. Having headphones connected does not affect the sounds from system alarms or incoming phone calls -- those still hit the main speaker.

The mute switch on the side of the iPhone will generally cut off all outward ringing, audio alerts and other noisy bits, with one notable and newsworthy exception: alarms that have been set will still be played audibly, regardless of the mute switch position. Most consider this a reasonable and long-standing UX compromise by cellphone makers (if not, the alarms would be critically unreliable; many people would simply forget to unmute their phones at night before bed), but there are plenty of dissenters.

Here are other ways you can limit your device's volume.

Adjust the Ringer and Alerts volume. In Settings > Sounds, you'll find a separate Ringers and Alerts volume slider, which you can adjust to your liking. If you set this too low, your alarm settings in the Clock app may not wake you up and you may miss incoming calls. An optional Change with Buttons toggle links your alerts/ringer volume to the hardware controls on the side of your device.

Two further options offer an alternative to your ringer. Select Settings > Sounds > Vibrate on Ring to transform alerts to vibrations. Enabling General > Accessibility > LED Flash for Alerts lets you "hear" your incoming calls with your eyes. This option adds a visual alert with your phone's camera flash (which could be made more visible with some additional case technology).

Adjust the Siri volume. Stray touches on your phone or new iPad Home button may invoke Siri by mistake, and the double-chirp that starts a Siri session. Siri uses its own volume settings, separate from normal speaker output, alerts, and ringers. To mute Siri, press and hold the Home button to launch Siri -- with the Siri microphone icon visible, use the hardware controls to adjust the volume down.

Alert Sounds. If you have the patience, you can currently disable notification alert sounds on an app-by-app basis in Settings > Notification > App Name > Sounds. Choose your ringtones, text tones, and other normal alerts in Settings > Sounds.

Volume Limit. Although this isn't an outward audio feature, many parents choose to set a cap on the music playback volume for a child's iPhone or iPod touch to prevent hearing damage. The limit setting (and an optional lock password) can be found in Settings > Music > Volume Limit.

Do Not Disturb. iOS 6 will introduce a Do Not Disturb feature in Settings that will disable updates arriving in your notification center and incoming phone calls. You'll be able to adjust the settings to allow incoming calls from selected people and/or a repeat-call override for emergencies.

TUAW's 101 series (Mac 101, iPhone 101 and iPad 101) all aim to help novice users get the most out of their Apple gear. Got a suggestion for a 101 topic or a question you want answered by Aunt TUAW? Drop us a line.

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