Bad design: The iPhone camera shutter sound

I accidentally turned off live photos on my iPhone 8 the other day when fiddling around with some settings in the camera app. I discovered I had done this when I took a picture while on an early evening stroll tonight and heard that horrible fake shutter sound go off after snapping a photo of a flower.

I checked the photo in the Photos app, and sure enough, it looked like live photos was turned off. For those not familiar, live photos basically starts recording a short video snippet just before, during and after taking a photo. These snippets can be treated like animated GIFs, or you can grab a still from the stream if your main/actual photo didn’t turn out the way you liked. I actually used this once for a selfie where the main photo had my eyebrows up and the frame just before had them down–and looked better.

But the main perk in having live photos is it kills the phony shutter sound that otherwise plays when you take a picture.

Now, I get why Apple added the sound. Back in the early days of iOS Apple design traded heavily on skeuomorphism, and this is the audio equivalent of that. What happens when you click to take a picture with a camera? You hear the shutter activate! Ergo, simulating this sound will reassure the user that the phone captured the photo and remind them that their expensive slab of glass is also a camera.

Except the sound is so meticulously loud and overdone it feels like the phone is mocking me. Every time I snap a photo it feels like the phone is announcing to everyone within hearing distance, “Hey! Taking a photo here! Did you hear that? You know what it is? Photo-taking! Yep, right here. Hope we’re not disturbing you! Photo in progress, lol!” I don’t really have a need to discreetly take photos–I’m not a private detective chasing down philanderers–but I don’t have any need or desire to draw attention to taking a simple picture, either. It’s obnoxious and unnecessary.

Currently there are two workarounds:

  • mute the audio on the phone
  • enable live photos

If you don’t care about any audio on your phone, the first workaround works. If you like live photos, the second workaround is fine.

But there shouldn’t be any need for workarounds. The shutter sound shouldn’t exist at all.

But I’m willing to compromise. Apple could offer an option in the Camera app settings: Enable shutter sound Y/N.

Anything else is bad design.

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