iPhone icons and what they mean

The iPhone has a ton of icons that change on occasion, and leave people extremely confused about what’s going on with their devices. These “iPhone problems” are far from problems. They’re normally just some information feedback letting you know what type of network you’re connected to or what settings are active on your iPhone. I’ve been asked twice in the last two days what the icon of the phone headset over a keyboard means, so I figured it was time to post what each of the iPhone icons means, and how they relate to your iPhone. All this information can be found in your manual.

Break it down!

Network Activity

This one is pretty straight forward, if your phone is busy connecting to a web service, or some network then this little icon is going to be spinning. It’s a great way to know when your phone is idling. Sending an email? This thing is going to be spinning like mad until that email has been sent across the tubes. Some applications use this as a notifier to let you know that a process is running, so be careful. If it’s a spinning don’t go a quitting.

Call Forwarding

If you’ve decided that you’re sick and tired of answering calls on your phone and decided to forward your number to another device then this baby will appear in your phones menubar. It’s pretty handy when you’re going on vacation and don’t want to take your phone with you. Bah. Who am I kidding, the iPhones attached to our hips.


A VPN is essentially a connection to a network over the internet. This means you can access services on that network as if you were sitting in your office. There’s some upsides to this for security reasons. If you don’t want your web traffic going across the air then it’s probably a good idea to look into setting this bad boy up. But, unless you’re working for a fourtune 500 company, there’s probably no reasons for this to be appearing on your phone.


You’ve gone and locked your phone. You better hope you remember your password. If not, well… there’s not much we can do for you. Don’t lock your phone if you’re not so good at remembering passwords. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!


This is mostly used for the deaf. I’m not too sure how that works with a mobile device like the iPhone, but if you see it on your menu bar, you might want to turn it off, unless you’re deaf. Then by all means, keep loving your iPhone.


Another pretty self evident icon. Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last sixty years, you’re probably well aware that that nice looking triangle is now the universal symbol for “play”. If it’s on the menu bar you probably have media playing on your device.


This isn’t on by default, and it’ll only appear if you set up an alarm in the clock application on your phone. This lets you know that your alarm has been set, and it’s ready to wake you up in the morning. The iPhone is the perfect alarm clock. I’m abusive to my clocks in the morning, but since I’ve been using my iPhone, I’ve been pretty domicile.


This little application eats up battery life, so if you have no idea what it means you should probably disable bluetooth in your phones settings. The iPhone only lets you connect a wireless headset over bluetooth, or tether your phone to a computer, so if you’re not currently using either of these functions you should probably save some battery life and turn it off.


Another on that’s self-explanatory, this icon changes a little depending on if your phone has been plugged in to charge or not. If you see a lightning bolt it means you’re charging up, if it’s missing in action, it means you’re running off the battery completely. Keep your eye on it, it’ll let you know if you’re batteries about to die.

Cell Signal

Your signal indicator here lets you know just how strong of a connection you have to the cell towers in your area. The more bars there are the better connection you’re going to have. You’ll probably notice that it fluctuates depending on your position around town. If you have no bars showing your out of luck. You better hope you don’t get mugged or need to dial 911.

Airplane Mode

There’s been some controversy about this little plane icon. When the pilot comes on the speakers before you take off, and they tell you to turn off your phone, what they really mean is stop your phone from broadcasting signals. Apple has your back here! They gave you the ability to turn off all the transmissions on your phone, so you can still use it to listen to music and watch videos on your phone. Hence the “air plane mode” title that they’ve given it.


The last of the icons following this one all have to do with the connection type to the cellphone tower. Some are faster than others and provide better quality overall. 3G is where it’s at currently. It’s not the cream of the crop, but it’s the best that Apple has decided to offer us. It’s pretty fast, and if anything, your telecommunications company is likely throttling your connection to stop you from getting the full speed that 3G has to offer. Why? Because they can’t afford to let you have that much speed. They don’t have the infrastructure to support us all. Oh, and they’re bastards. I should probably note that you’ll either have the 3G icon, Edge icon, or Wifi Icon, and that you can not have any more than one of these at a time.


Edge sucks, plain and simple. If you’re planning on using a smart phone and you’re stuck on an edge network I feel mighty sorry for you. It’s like taking a trip back in time and using a dial up modem again. Hey, it’s better than nothing, but it is gonna take you some time to get your email over the cellular network in this mode. It’s far from fun times. Avoid it where you can!


If EDGE sucks, then GPRS BLOWS. That’s all I have to say about this! Well that, and if you’re in a GPRS network most of the time, you should probably forgo the cost of an iPhone and buy yourself a HAM Radio instead. Don’t laugh, people still use those… a lot!


WiFi is going to provide you with the fastest possible data connection you can get, unless you have a dial up modem at home still. Essentially this means you’ve connected to your local internet connection, and you’re using that connection to get your data on your phone.

Joshua is the Content Marketing Manager at BuySellAds. He’s also the founder of Macgasm.net. And since all that doesn’t quite give him enough content to wrangle, he’s also a technology journalist in his spare time, with bylines at PCWorld, Macworld… Full Bio