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How to Customize the iPhone Control Center

Jonathan Wylie is a writer, educator and podcaster. You can hear the audio version of this article, and others, on the Unpacking iOS podcast

A white iPhone on a table displaying the iOS Control Center

A white iPhone on a table displaying the iOS Control Center

Do you use the iPhone Control Center? A lot of people have a love hate relationship with this particular iPhone feature. It's exactly what they need when they can find it, but when they forget where it is, frustration sets in and people start to swipe madly around their screen to try and find it. Personally I think there is a lot to like about Control Center, especially if you take some time to dig a little deeper and take full advantage of everything that it can do for you. Here's what you need to know.

How to Access Control Center: iPhone & iPad

Unfortunately, there is no consistent way to access Control Center on an iOS device. Apple has made this work differently depending on the device you are using. This is not very convenient, especially if you use multiple devices, so here is a quick summary of how to access Control Center on an iPhone.

If you are using an iPhone with a home button, (an iPhone 8 or earlier), all you need to do is swipe up from the bottom of the screen to open Control Center. If you are using an iPad, or any other kind of iPhone, you swipe down from the top right-hand corner of the screen to open Control Center.

To close Control Center, simply perform the opposite gesture. On an iPhone 8 or earlier, you swipe down to close it, and on other devices you swipe up.

How to Customize Control Center

Apple allows some degree of customization with Control Center, but not everything can be changed. For instance, the default device controls like brightness, volume, WiFi, Bluetooth, Airplane Mode and the Now Playing widget, will appear on every iPhone Control Center. However, the space below these controls is all yours, and there are options available to you if you want to add additional settings.

To customize what appears in the Control Center, open the Settings app, tap Control Center, and then tap Customize Controls. Here you will see two groups of icons. The ones at the top of the screen, are the ones that appear when you open Control Center. The ones underneath, are not currently in Control Center, but they could be.

To add or remove icons, tap the plus sign or the minus sign. You can add as many as you want. Once you have everything you need, use the grab handles to the right of each icon to drag and drop it in the order you prefer. Generally speaking, you should put the ones you use most at the top of the list, while lesser used settings can be further down the list.

You can add and organize Control Center in the Settings app

You can add and organize Control Center in the Settings app

My Favorite Control Center Actions

Not everyone will need or want everything that Control Center has to offer, but that is the beauty of having a customizable list. You can make it work for your needs and forget about the things you will rarely use. On my iPhone, I love the Flashlight. It comes in handy in so many scenarios and I can always rely on it to add extra light when I am walking the dog, looking for something underneath the couch, or sneaking in to bed at night when my wife is already asleep. As such, the Flashlight is probably the one I use most.

I also like the Calculator. While Siri can be summoned to perform almost any basic calculation, the Calculator is more discreet, and having access to it from Control Center saves me searching through my iPhone to find the folder that I buried the Calculator app in. I also like the Magnifier. This handy utility is great for reading serial numbers on devices or for taking a closer look at tiny objects. It is basically a version of the Camera app that has an adjustable zoom for getting up close and personal with anything you struggle to see with normal vision.

Lastly, the Screen Recording function is perfect for making quick how-to screencasts on an iPhone or an iPad. Once activated, your iOS device will record everything you do on your screen and everything you say at the same time. It's perfect for quick YouTube tutorials or for helping out friends and family when they get stuck using their devices.

This screenshot shows some of my favorite Control Center actions

This screenshot shows some of my favorite Control Center actions

How to Use Quick Settings in Control Center

You probably know that you can toggle a function on and off in the Control Center by tapping on it, but much more lies beneath the surface if you press and hold on some of these icons. For instance, if you press and hold on the Brightness slider, you will see the option to turn Dark Mode on or off. Press and hold the Wi-Fi indicator and you can switch networks without even opening the Settings app.

The flashlight, one of my favorite Control Center actions, can be adjusted to give off more or less light simply by pressing and holding the icon, and then tapping on the pop-up bar to adjust the brightness. The camera icon can be used to quickly take a selfie, record video, take a portrait or record a slow motion video. You can also press and hold the Do Not Disturb button to turn it on for an hour, enable it until tomorrow morning, or to find a quick way to adjust your scheduled hours.

These handy shortcuts don't work for all the icons in the Control Center, but they do work for a lot of them. Try it with the ones that you added to your iPhone. They are a great way to get quick access to things that you would normally have to dig around for in the Settings app.

Press and hold the Notes icon in Control Center for some quick note taking options

Press and hold the Notes icon in Control Center for some quick note taking options

The Control Center is one of those features that people sometimes forget about, or at least, they forget how to access it on their iPhone. However, if you make some time to commit it to muscle memory, you won't regret it. There are a lot of useful features in the iPhone Control Center, many of which can save you time and effort that can be better spent elsewhere.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Jonathan Wylie