Alarmingly Accessible

I've used an iPhone since 2007. I should know how to use the alarm feature by now. No such luck. My spouse and I use our Bose Wave Radio as our main alarm. I use my iPhone alarm only on rare occasions when I get up earlier than she does.

When Blind and Sighted Worlds Collide

One of those rare occasions happened last week. My phone alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 6 AM. My instinct was to find the stop button on the screen and double-tap it, which was the only way I knew to turn off the alarm. I bumped one of the volume buttons by accident, and because the alarm stopped and I was only half-conscious, I assumed the alarm was off. My spouse rolled over, sound asleep. I got up and stumbled, zombie-like, to the shower, unaware that I had merely snoozed the alarm.

You can guess the consequences. A few minutes later, as I lazily emerged from dreamland in a stream of steaming hot water, my spouse entered the bathroom and asked how to turn my alarm off. I tried to describe how to find the Stop button and double-tap, but my fully sighted and half-asleep spouse was unreceptive to a lecture on VoiceOver basics. I was in the shower, and of course we all know touchscreens don't respond to wet hands.

After this collision of the blind and sighted worlds, I did a little research on the iOS alarm. If you already think you know how to use the alarm, then I hope this article doesn't put you to sleep.

So, How Do You Turn Off the Alarm?

To turn off the alarm, hit the home button---the physical button in the bottom center of the screen. (On the iPhone X, use the home gesture.) Given how simple and accessible this is, you have to wonder why Apple added the extra confusion of an onscreen control.

Using the home button has a definite advantage. It's the same whether you're a VoiceOver user or not. If you learn to use the home button to turn off the alarm, then you'll never have to explain to a sighted spouse how to find and double-tap the onscreen Stop button while you stand in the shower with soaking wet hands.

Don't Snooze Through this Section

We've now established that the home button turns off the alarm---and woke up the entire household in the process. So what do the other physical buttons do? They snooze the alarm. That's right, there are three physical buttons for snooze (two volume buttons and the top or side sleep/wake switch), and one physical button for turning off the alarm. Some people use the snooze feature and some don't. Because the snooze controls outnumber the off control three to one, I'd wager the Apple iOS team falls into the former category.

Here are some other things you should know about the snooze feature.

  • The snooze time is nine minutes. There's no way to change it.
  • You can disable the snooze feature. If you do this, the sleep/wake switch and volume buttons act like the home button and turn off the alarm.
  • Here's how to edit the alarm and disable snooze.
    • Open the Clock app and select the Alarm tab at the bottom.
    • Select the Edit button in the upper left corner, then select the alarm you want to edit from the list of alarms.
    • Toggle the snooze setting at the bottom of the edit screen.
  • Each time you create a new alarm, the snooze feature is enabled by default. There is no global setting to turn it off by default.

Creating an Alarm

I know what you're thinking. "Geez, Paul," you're saying to yourself. "You've blogged almost 600 words so far, and you still haven't explained how to create an alarm."

There is a method in my madness. Before you create an alarm, you must understand that the iOS alarm is heavily biased towards snoozing. How you create the alarm depends on whether you want to buy into Apple's bias, or actually wake up. Like I do.

If You're a Snoozer

By far the easiest way to create an alarm is to use SIRI. "Set a 6 AM alarm." Just keep in mind this has snooze enabled by default, and editing the alarm to turn it off is a pain in the pillow.

If You're Not a Snoozer

Create an alarm using the label option, then disable snooze. You'll keep this labeled alarm around indefinitely and turn it on and off with SIRI.

To create a labeled alarm, include the name in your SIRI command. For example, to create an alarm called primary, say "Create an alarm called primary." SIRI will prompt you for a time.

After you create the alarm, take a couple minutes to edit it and disable snooze.

Use SIRI to set your alarm. You can say "Turn on my primary alarm," and "Turn off my primary alarm," If you say "Change my primary alarm," SIRI will prompt you for a new time.

These Edits Are Alarming

While editing the alarm to disable snooze, you might want to put it on a schedule. You could name an alarm weekday, for example, and edit it to activate Monday through Friday. Edit the alarm like you do to change the snooze setting, but tap the Repeat button to specify the days the alarm is active.

Bored with your current alarm ringtone? Your alarm can play wake up music instead. While you're editing the alarm, tap the Sound button, then find and select the Pick A Song button. In my experience, the more obnoxious the song, the more effective it is at getting my lazy butt out of bed. I suggest My Pal Foot Foot by The Shaggs.

Turn Down that Alarm

I keep my iPhone on my nightstand when I sleep, mere inches away from my head. At this distance, the alarm is deafeningly loud. While this volume setting most certainly ensures I rise in the morning, there have been times I wish I could lower it.

My research indicates that alarm volume is tied to ringer volume, but I've been unable to make this work. No matter how loud or quiet I set the ringer, the alarm always plays at the same volume. This is with iOS 11.3, testing on an iPhone 5s and an iPhone SE. If anyone has any tips for setting the alarm volume, please post a comment.

I understand the iPhone X lowers the alarm volume if you're looking at the phone, an aspect of the attention awareness feature. This probably makes sense. I've been known to walk in my sleep, but don't think I've ever looked at my iPhone in my sleep.

Improving the Alarm

The alarm feature has seen few enhancements since its introduction in iOS 1.0, so there's plenty of room for improvements. Here are my ideas for Apple's iOS team to consider.

  • Allow defaults for new alarms to be configured in a settings screen. The Calendar app allows users to configure defaults for new events, why not the alarm feature? Configurable parameters should include whether snooze is on or off, snooze duration, and behavior for physical buttons.
  • Add a SIRI interface for changing alarm parameters, not just the time. SIRI should let users change alarm labels, snooze on or off, snooze duration, and days to repeat.
  • Consider removing the onscreen Snooze and Stop buttons. They aren't really necessary given that physical buttons perform the same task.
  • I'm not sure why I can't adjust the alarm volume. If this is a missing feature, I'd like to see it added. If it's a bug, I'd like to see it fixed. If this is user error, I'd like a swift kick in the rear.

An Alarming Issue

This has been a fun blog about how to effectively use the iOS alarm feature. But there's a bigger issue I want to discuss.

There's a reason I didn't know the home button disables the alarm. It's because I had always used the onscreen Snooze and Stop buttons. With VoiceOver enabled, this becomes a special interface usable only by blind people. I could not tell my spouse how to disable the alarm because she doesn't know how to use VoiceOver.

Special, separate interfaces divide us from the sighted world. Onscreen alarm controls that behave differently when VoiceOver is enabled divide blind and sighted users by eliminating a common language for using the controls. This issue is especially glaring with the iOS alarm because the iPhone's physical buttons already provide an accessible interface for the snooze and stop actions. There is no need for additional onscreen controls usable only by blind users.

The problem of separate interfaces dividing us from the sighted world is an entire blog in itself. For now, please share your thoughts on this issue in the comments section.

Thanks for reading. If this blog has put you to sleep, I hope you remembered to set your alarm.

Reference

For further reading, here's a list of tips for using the alarm feature on iOS and Android. I hope you find it useful.

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Comments

Submitted by Malthe on Monday, April 16, 2018

Hi
Great post. I do, however, disagree with your last point. If VoiceOver access to the on screen alarm interface was remove, it sets a bad precedence for interface design, namely that VoiceOver users should not be able to interact with certain elements because they don't need to. If a non-VoiceOver user wants to turn off the alarm, you can always turn on the screen, so they can simply touch the stop button and double-tap afterwards.

Submitted by Alli on Monday, April 16, 2018

Hello,
I agree with Malthe and would add that, if the "onscreen Snooze and Stop buttons" are removed, then how do we ensure choices? Accessibility should not be restrictive if there is room for diversity, pick & choose or various options
to suit both the simple and the advance users.
Cheers! Alli.

Thanks for your comments.

If I might clarify my muddy thoughts... The problem with onscreen controls in general is that they behave differently when VoiceOver is on or off. As a result, it's a different interface for us blind users. Don't get me wrong. I love VoiceOver. But the best accessible interface is one that is shared by both blind and sighted users. In this case, using the physical home button is the best interface.

Submitted by Malthe on Monday, April 16, 2018

Hi
This is an interesting discussion. If one were to remove on-screen controls for the alarms across the board for both blind and sighted, I think a lot of people would get confused, as they're used to touching the stop button on the screen. Personally I use the home button to stop the alarm and the volume buttons for snooze, but when interacting with the alarm for the first time, this might not be obvious, and in that situation I think the screen controls have their place. Also I guess a lot of sighted people would find it weird to not see any controls on the screen.
On the other hand if the controls remained for the sighted, but were gone for the blind, the screen would then not behave like it does in all other situations of using the device, which would confuse the VoiceOver user in my opinion.
I have thought about your points on a unified interface in the past, specifically in relation to the medical ID function on lock screen. If I get incapacitated, a sighted potential rescuer is not able to access medical ID through the emergency dialog on the lock screen, like they usually would be able to. I haven't thought of a way around this, however.

Best
Malthe

Submitted by PaulMartz on Monday, April 16, 2018

Wow. That is an excellent point. Sometimes, sighted users do need to access our phones, and the Medical ID is a perfect example. Thanks.

I don't fault Apple for this. VoiceOver is a great way for us to access touch screens. However, I keep running into this separate interface issue more and more. It has become a barrier for me to communicate with sighted users on how to use iOS on more than one occasion. I'll keep looking for more examples and discuss with other users. As I mentioned, this is its own entire blog.

Submitted by Dawn on Monday, April 16, 2018

Hi. When I need to use my ipad's alarm, I use Siri. I just tell her what to do, what time to set it for, turning it off/on and clearing it.

I love using Siri when I can, mainly, because my sighted family uses my ipad at times, and the #a thing is for toggling Vo. on/off. She saves me a lot of heartache especially for that reason alone. Plus, if I'm feeling lazy, or if it's faster to use Siri than to manually do it.

Submitted by PaulMartz on Monday, April 16, 2018

SIRI is a great example of an accessible interface that can be used the same way between both sighted and blind users. It's certainly one of Apple's greatest innovations. I'd love to see it expanded, though. Compared to the Amazon Echo, SIRI is starting to look limited and dated.

Submitted by Ekaj on Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Thanks for this good blog post. I just got my iPhone about 3 weeks ago, and am going for some formal training next month. The place I'm going to didn't have any sooner openings. But I've mainly been playing around with Siri on my iPhone, and she's done pretty well thus far. Yes, for the time being my Siri and VoiceOver voices are both female and I love it, lol! I will definitely try using Siri to set an alarm. I'm very happy thus far with my iPhone, and one of the guys at the training place tells me that I'll like it even more once my training starts.

Submitted by Brooke on Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Thanks for this post... it was informative, and yet extremely entertaining. I actually didn't know the alarm could be disabled using the Home button, because like you, I've only used my iPhone's alarm a few times. Why this is, I have no idea.

Submitted by Mani on Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Hello Paul,
When my wife needs to use my Voiceover enabled iPhone, I just tell her to triple-click the home button to disable Voiceover ( I set it up to do that).
I think that is a happy medium between the two worlds.
Thanks for the blog post.
Cheers,
mani

Submitted by PaulMartz on Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Thanks, Mani. Great point. I, too, have my iPhone set up with the accessibility shortcut configured to toggle VoiceOver. But my spouse doesn't do this very often, and was half asleep when this incident happened. I think disabling VoiceOver with the accessibility shortcut would have been an insurmountable task. LOL.

Nonetheless, you have a very good point - There must be an easy way to turn a blind-specific interface into a sighted user interface.

Submitted by Nicholas on Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Hi Paul,
Great post! I have learned several new things about using the alarm already. A "labeled" alarm that is usable from SIRI, nice!
Really enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing.
Best regards.

Submitted by Joseph Westhouse on Wednesday, April 18, 2018

First off, my compliments on a well-written post. Entertaining and informative—what every post like this should strive to be.

Regarding the final issue you mentioned, if I understand correctly, you're suggesting that there is a special interface that is only present when VO is activated...but do we know that's the case? I had always assumed that sighted users who don't use VO would also have a "Stop" control on the screen as well. If that's the case, then the only divergence is the way that VO changes how you interact with the screen, in which case I'm not sure there's anything to criticize here, as you could level the same criticism at every detail of the iOS touch interface, since it all behaves differently with VO activated.

However, if the on-screen Stop button is only there for VO users, then I agree that this is an unnecessary and potentially problematic addition; the more universal the user experience can be, the better.

Submitted by PaulMartz on Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Good observation, Joseph.

While I love VoiceOver - it makes a touchscreen accessible - I am indeed stepping timidly into the waters of criticizing it. Not because it's a bad interface, but simply because it would be better if it were not a separate, special interface that only blind people know how to use.

I submit that an interface that is both accessible and the same for sighted users is inherently better than an interface that is accessible but different from the sighted users' interface. And, like I said, this is a topic that might better be explored in its own blog. But I'm bringing it up to sort of raise a flag and see if anyone else salutes.

Submitted by Joseph Westhouse on Wednesday, April 18, 2018

I agree that an interface that is exactly the same in all use cases is inherently superior...but that's without taking into consideration other factors. Where VO is concerned, it is not possible for VO to operate the same way the current touch interface works, simply because there would then be no way to explore the screen by touch without activating ever item you touch. So the only way of getting a fully universal interface would actually be to change the primary touch interface to behave the way that the phone behaves when VO is on. For a great number of very valid reasons, that's obviously not a good idea either.

So this is really a good idea of designing for universal accessibility from the ground up, and implementing accessibility after the initial design. In the former case, you're able to try to shape your design so that it can be universally accessible. In the latter, you're almost guaranteed a bit of divergence between the accessible and non-accessible interfaces unless you really luck out. I do agree that the one thing Apple has done to mitigate this is to implement the accessibility shortcut. That's still one command that the sighted user has to know, but it beats them having to know a whole other interaction scheme in order to use VO.

Submitted by kool_turk on Thursday, April 19, 2018

I'm not sure how well this would work, I got the idea from the touchtyping mode.

Basicly you would explore by touch, and activate the icon when you lift your finger.

Obviously you wouldn't want it to accidentally activate an icon by bumping the screen so allow some time for it to register.

Another way would be the split tap, but I don't think sighted people use that so they wouldn't know what it is.

Stick to the above method, and if you change your mind, lift your finger while you're exploring the screen, like facebook messenger lets you do when you want to cansel your voice message.

Submitted by Sean Terry on Friday, April 20, 2018

Hi there, I just wanted to pop in here and say that I now use the home button all the time to turn my alarms off. I never realized we could actually do that. I always would just hit one of the volume buttons and then try to find the stop button on the screen. Hitting the home button is so much easier! Thank you for the suggestion.

Submitted by Jesse the K on Friday, April 20, 2018

Here's what I learned the hard way: Alarms will always play. I use them as medication reminders four times a day, every day, so I've had the chance to interrupt solemn occasions.

At the first funeral, I'd turned the mute button on. The alarm still sounded.

At the second funeral I'd powered my iPad down. Even then, the alarm wakes up the device to play.

Much thanks for teaching this mostly-sighted person about the home button.

But there is a software-only sighted-person interface to control the alarm. I've always used the large, centered, orange onscreen button labeled "snooze". When I'm actually awake, I tap the much smaller, default-color text reading "stop" at the base of the screen.

Submitted by PaulMartz on Friday, April 20, 2018

Thanks for the great comments and discussion.

For those of you who, like me, have found it incredibly useful to know that the home button turns off the alarm, I share your joy. It's just a much better and faster way to turn off the alarm than trying to find the onscreen stop button. And it works the same for sighted people, giving us a common language for disabling the alarm.

Jesse, I'm shocked by your post for two reasons. First, I had no idea the alarm sounded even when the device was powered down. I'll have to test that. Second, sorry to hear you went to two funerals. I hope you experience happier times going forward.

Submitted by Jesse the K on Friday, April 20, 2018

Thanks, Paul, for you kind wishes. Funerals come with the over-60 territory, I've learned. *wry*

Submitted by TJ on Sunday, April 22, 2018

Thank you for the important factoid that alarms can be turned off by pressing home button. Who knew?

I always use my phone for my alarm and don't want to wake up my spouse, so routinely set the alarm to pretty quiet. I have found 3 ways to change volume, and they seem to control different types of sound. For the alarm:
go to settings, then sounds (bottom of second page if you scroll with 3 finger swipe up)
The second sub-heading on the Sounds screen is "Ringer and Alerts", almost halfway down the screen.
first item under Ringer and Alerts is "Sound volume"
flick up or down to change volume by about 10 at a time (don't know how to change by smaller increments)
I find around 20 - 25 is a good volume for waking me up without waking my spouse, but that's just me

Biggest downside of making this change is that, when your phone rings the next day, you may not hear it if it is in pocket or bag. I try to remember to put the volume back up, but sometimes forget.

The sound volume changed via settings does not (I repeat, not) change the volume of VoiceOver. so, to change that, I go to control panel by touching status bar, then doing 3 finger swipe up. The volume button is down near the bottom of the screen, right side. It is another "adjustable" item, so flick up or down to desired volume.

Then, there are the buttons, and I'm not clear on which volumes they change...

Hope this helps

TJ

Submitted by gailisaiah on Monday, April 23, 2018

Hi all,
For me, I have my ringer set and I turn the ringer and alert volume so it won't change no matter how loud I have the phone. Then at night, I'll turn VO up before going to sleep and the alarm is loud enough in the morning. Just my preferences, though.

Submitted by Ekaj on Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Hi everyone. I just tried out my iPhone's alarm, and discovered that it will snooze when turning up the volume via the side buttons. Pretty sweet. Tomorrow I go for my first formal iPhone training.

Funny. In the original story at the top of this article, where I snoozed my alarm by accident by hitting the volume buttons, I am pretty sure I was trying to change the volume of the alarm to make it not quite so loud.

Submitted by Steve Sawczyn on Saturday, August 1, 2020

So this morning I had a situation that is almost the mirror of yours. My sighted teenaged daughter's iPhone alarm has been going off and as she worked late, I thought I'd be a great dad and let her sleep in. Anyway, I figured I could shut off her alarm, but alas, all I can do is snooze it with the physical buttons. I tried enabling VoiceOver, but I think she has the accessibility shortcut (triple press of sleep button on iPhone11) set to something else. Without VoiceOver, I don't think I have a way to shut the alarm off. Anyway, this has been going on for the past hour or so and since I have nine minutes before I have to hit a physical button again, I thought I'd google if there's other ways to shut off the alarm -- that's how I found your post. :) Anyway, on reflection, I definitely agree that it would be fantastic to be able to configure a physical button on phones that don't have the home button to shut off the alarm. Of course this might not change my particular situation as she, being a teenager and knowing more than the rest of us, probably wouldn't configure it, but still it could provide additional user customization. I also apparently need to learn what the non-VoiceOver home gesture is, I tried swiping up but the alarm just continues to mock me. :) Anyway, thank you for your awesome post which clarifies exactly how the alarm function works. I'd write more, but apparently my nine minutes are up. lol.

Submitted by Mabbs92 on Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Hi--this was an interesting read and provided a new perspective, so thank you for posting! I just wanted to let you know there is another way to turn the alarm off if you have accidentally snoozed it, or have perhaps snoozed it, gotten up and now want to turn it off. On the lock screen, swipe until you find the alarm. Swipe down to "clear" and double tap. This will effectively disable the alarm. HTH! :)

Thanks, that is a great tip, I thought the clear would just clear it from the home screen, but not actually disable the alarm, so this is an awesome tip.

Submitted by Ekaj on Friday, August 7, 2020

Hi Paul et all. Paul, this is a great blog post. Now that I've had my iPhone for awhile, I've done some exploring. One of the discoveries I made was the Bedtime tab in the clock app. While I don't use this regularly since I've never really had a need to have Apple track my sleep patterns etc., I've tried it out. The Bedtime tab has a separate alarm function, and there is a volume slider. I've tried out all of the alarm sounds in this tab and like them. Perhaps I will turn Bedtime back on at some point. The options in there won't affect any of the device's other functions. Hth somebody or everybody.