written by: Elton Gahr•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 6/13/2011
As one of the most feature rich phones in the world there are a lot of symbols that the new iPhone user needs to understand in order to know what the phone is doing and what it can do at any time. Here are all the symbols you are likely to see and a couple you're not likely to see.
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The iPhone has a lot more options that the average non-smartphone and because of that it also has a lot more information that it has to be able to give you. In order to do this there are a number of iPhone symbols that can tell you a lot about your phone, from signal strength and battery life, to symbols that are far less common. Each of these symbols means something worth understanding.
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Signal Strength Symbols
The first symbols that you are likely to look for when you pick up the phone relate to signal strength. The most common of these is the cell signal which is up to five vertical bars. You will also see the Wi-Fi signal. This is three curved lines forming a triangle with a round top. Seeing this at all means you are connected to Wi-Fi, but like the signal strength icon, it will change based on the strength of that signal.
What many people do not know about the signal strength icons is what the different bars actually mean. The icon measures the number of decibels. For five bars of signal strength you have to be below 51 Db with anything above 113 being one bar. Apple has been questioned about the algorithm which shows this strength, as it has in the past allowed signals to show up as five bars which were considerably weaker than five bars on other phones. That helped to explain many lost calls, but it has since been adjusted to be closer to industry standards.
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Airplane Mode and Locked Phones
There are a couple of symbols that will appear with the icons at the top of the screen which could cause problems in trying to use your phone. The lock icon is the one that you will see the most. This simply means that you have to slide the unlock bar so that you can use the phone. Easier to miss is the airplane mode. This is designed to keep the iPhone from interfering with the functioning of an airplane, so all wireless functionality is turned off. This means you cannot make calls or access the Internet. In order to turn this on or off you simply need to go into settings and change airplane mode from on to off, which should allow everything on the phone to work normally again.
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Bluetooth is one of the best ways for the iPhone, or any mobile device, to connect with other things. Whether it is a headset, a keyboard or some random third-party Bluetooth device, Bluetooth is very useful. The main drawback is that it will reduce the battery life of your phone so understanding when it is on and off is very useful.
The symbol of Bluetooth itself is one of the more random looking of the symbols. It is two triangles forming a B with a > on the left side. If this appears on the symbol bar it means that Bluetooth is on and you will be able to connect to Bluetooth devices.
In addition to this there is a symbol you are a bit less likely to see. This is the battery level for the iPhone Bluetooth headset. You will only see this when very specific Bluetooth headsets are connected, but when you do it can help you keep track of their battery life.
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There are a couple of networks which you can use to connect iPhones to the Internet. Each of these has its own symbol which is important for knowing if you are connected. The first of these is the Edge network which has a symbol of a box with an E in it. The other is the less elegantly named GPRS network which has a simple square. If you have access to one of these networks you are likely very aware of these symbols because you'll need them to use the Internet and if you don’t use these networks you are not likely to ever see these symbols.
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The most important of the iPhone symbols, beyond the signal strength of your iPhone, is the battery. This is a battery on its side with at least part of it green. This shows the amount of battery life. The less green the less battery life. The other symbol you may notice is a lightning bolt across the middle. This means that the phone is charging.
Two other symbols you are likely to see at some point on the device are alarm and play symbols. These are effectively what they sound like. The play symbol means that some type of audio is playing through the phone, most likely a song. The Alarm symbol means that there is an alarm set, important to know if you use the iPhone as an alarm but otherwise you’re not likely to see it.
The final symbol which you will very likely not see is the Teletype machine symbol. This is a device used by the hearing impaired in order to allow communication by typing and reading text. These devices use the TTY adapter cable and so this symbol is the symbol you’re least likely to see.