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Issue #154: July 4, 2010

Q: I have an iPhone 3G, and I’m having problems with the audio volume when playing certain game apps.  The game controls show that the sound is turned on, and I have the volume turned all the way up, but I still can’t hear anything. 

– Ernie M.
Crestview, Fla

A: What a great question! Spouse Peripheral has similar problems with her iPhone on occasion.  She often finds that the tones played for text messages are way too soft, even though the volume appears to be turned all the way up.  So, I’ve already had the opportunity to research this problem, and I think I have a solution for you.  Oddly enough, I’ve never read anything addressing this as a problem, so I had to figure it out, and was actually a little surprised at what I found.  With the popularity of the iPhone, and the recent release of yet another new version of it, hopefully this will help a lot of people. 

The iPhone has been widely praised for the simplicity of its controls.  Other than the touch screen, there are essentially four controls on the phone: the ring/silent switch, the volume up/down rocker control, the “home” button on the front of the phone, and the power/reset button on the top, near the headphone jack.  Despite having only one volume control, it is my experience that there are at least 3 independently adjustable volumes on my iPhone.  There is a ringer volume, the earpiece volume (adjusts the loudness of phone calls) and there is what I will call a “sound effects” volume, which is used for games, and certain phone functions, such as the sound played when a text message arrives.  For the most part, these volumes adjust in context using the volume up/down rocker control.  That is to say, only one volume is adjusted at a time, and the phone figures out which one you’re trying to adjust based on what you are doing at the time you activate the volume control.  Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules about how this is supposed to function, and it seems to work differently depending on what app is running.  Even the ring/silent switch isn’t universal.  Some games, for example, continue to generate audio even when when you flip the switch on the side of the phone to “silent”.

When you are at the home screen (no apps running), if you activate the volume control, you are adjusting the ringer volume.  You can tell this by the presence of the word “ringer” at the top of the volume overlay that pops up on the screen.  When you’re in a call, if you activate the volume control, you change the earpiece volume. Unfortunately, Apple didn’t choose to label this one.  The hard one to access is the sound effects volume.  It sometimes adjusts in context, and sometimes does not.  For example, it would make sense, since the sounds for text messages are “sound effects”, if adjusting the volume control while in the text messaging app would adjust the sound effects volume, but it adjusts the ringer volume (thanks Bill, uh, I mean Steve).  I have found an easy, reliable way to make sure the sound effects volume is selected, and that is to run the Voice Memos app.  You needn’t record anything – just run the app.  Then activate the volume rocker control, and you are changing the sound effects volume.  Make sure the sound is turned up, and your game audio problems should go away.  One last thing:  Since there don’t seem to be any rules for the ring/silent switch, make sure it is turned on if your game still isn’t making sound.

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