Understanding the iPad’s controls

4 min read

iPad controlsApple may have not have been the first company to make a touchscreen computer, but they were clearly the first to make them popular in the eyes of consumers. Starting with the iPhone, and then later with the iPad, Apple proved how a simple, yet powerful touch interface could revolutionize the way we interact with and use portable electronics. The iPad is not completely button-free however, and knowing how to use the four physical controls on the tablet can help you get more out of it.

Power Button

The power button is located at the top right of the iPad. You probably learned this one right away, since you have to press it to first turn on the iPad. Once the iPad is powered on, pressing this once again puts the iPad in standby mode. In this state the screen is turned off, but the iPad can be quickly turned back on by pressing this power button (or the home button) once again and sliding the on-screen control from left to right. When in standby mode there is still a slight amount of battery drain, though it would take several weeks to completely deplete the battery in this state. To completely power down the iPad, press and hold the power button for about 3 seconds, which will display a red slider at the top of the screen to confirm the shutdown process.

Home Button

This is the button you will use most often and is located front and center at the bottom of the iPad. Like most of the controls on the iPad, the home button’s function depends on the state of the iPad:

  • The iPad is in standby mode — tapping the home button once will turn the iPad’s screen back on (same as hitting the power button once).
  • The iPad is running an app — tapping the home button will close out the app and return you to the iPad’s home screen.
  • Double-tap at any time — double tapping the home button will reveal the multitasking bar in the middle of the screen, which displays apps that have been recently opened. Tap any of these app preview windows to quickly switch to that app. You can also activate the multitasking view and switch between apps with multitouch gestures, which you can read more about here.
  • Triple-tap at any time — this action can be set to one of four different functions on the main settings page. Go to Settings -> General -> Accessibility -> Triple-click -> our favorite option here is to set the triple-click action to invert the colors. Pilots will find this useful when flying at night to change the color of approach charts and taxiway diagrams to display as white text on a black background, reducing the extra brightness.
  • Press and hold at any time — for those that have an iPad 3 or newer, holding down the home button will activate Siri, and allow you to control the iPad via voice commands.

There are also some actions you can initiate by pressing the home button and power buttons simultaneously. With the iPad on and an app running, tap both of these buttons together and the iPad will flash white and save a photo of whatever is visible on the screen, and save it to the photos app. This is useful when you want to save flight planning information from a website that you typically wouldn’t have access to in the air.

If your iPad becomes unresponsive or an app starts acting erratically, you can reset the iPad by pressing both the power and home buttons together. After holding them for about 10 seconds, the Apple logo will appear on the screen and iPad will restart.

Volume control

The 2 buttons on the side of the iPad below the side switch control the volume of the iPad’s speaker or headphones if connected. You’ll see a volume level indication on the screen when adjusting this control. With the camera app open on the iPad or iPhone, you can also use the volume up button to take a picture, which is often easier to press than the on-screen control.

The iPad's side switch can be set to either control screen orientation lock or to mute the audio.

The iPad’s side switch can be set to either control screen orientation lock or to mute the audio.

Side switch

This switch can be configured to either lock the orientation of the iPad’s screen or to function as an audio mute switch. By default this switch allows you to lock the orientation of the screen, preventing it from changing direction when you rotate the iPad. Pilots will find this option useful to prevent the screen from inadvertently switching on you in the airplane when viewing charts.

For those that would prefer to have the switch act as a mute switch, go to the main iPad Settings, then select General on the left side of the screen, and then on the right side towards the bottom you’ll see an option for “Use Side Switch to.” When set to function as a mute switch, you can still lock the screen orientation by swiping up from the bottom of the screen to display the control center, then tapping the gray button at the bottom left of the screen that has a circular arrow in it. This will display a lock symbol in the button and lock the screen orientation in place.

3 replies
  1. Michael Pryce
    Michael Pryce says:

    In the article about understanding the iPad’s controls, there is a paragraph about the slide switch. You state when the slide switch is set to “mute” that “you can still lock the screen by double tapping the home button, then slide the multitasking bar to the right and tap the gray button at the bottom left of the screen that has a circular arrow in it. I have tried this many times on the mini and iPad Air. No such gray button appears. The only way to lock the screen is to do it through the settings button and check the lock screen option under slid switch controls. If there is something I am missing, I would like an update sent to my email box. Thank you

  2. Michael Pryce
    Michael Pryce says:

    The only way you can control the lock screen function when the switch is set to mute is by accessing the control center by swiping your finger up from the bottom and clicking the circular button to lock mode. There is no gray button on the bottom left of the screen after you double click the home button. That went away with IOS 6. It would be helpful if you update your article. Thank you

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      Editing error on that Michael – thanks for the catch. We have updated the article.

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