Remember the 3.5mm headphone jack? You know, the port on your phone where you put the cable of your headphones in before Bluetooth headphones became all the rage? Given all the differences between Android phones and iPhones, both in terms of hardware and software, this was, for quite a while, a somewhat unifying factor. For the mobile content creation community this meant that you could use certain external mics (like the original iRig Mic) with both kinds of phones. Then Apple and in its wake many/most others smartphone makers decided to get rid of the headphone jack and rely on a sole physical port for accessory hardware connections: the Lightning port (Apple) or a USB-C port (Android phones). While we’re still waiting for the iPhone to finally give up its proprietary Lightning port and switch to the universal USB-C, I found a little something on the software side that works the same on both mobile platforms. It’s something lots of people might not even be aware of and those who do may not know what it’s actually about. But it’s useful and interesting.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes when using an app on your smartphone, a tiny colored dot appears in the top right corner of the screen and remains there? On Android, this dot is green and on iOS, it’s sometimes green and sometimes orange. What is it about? It’s an indicator that an app is actively using either the microphone, the camera, or both. This is quite important for privacy reasons since it will help you be aware when apps are accessing this hardware or even find apps that might secretly try to run the microphone or camera without you knowing. It might also work the other way round: An app that should be accessing the camera or microphone actually doesn’t because of a bug. Note: The indicator does NOT mean that the device is actually recording video or audio at that moment, it just signifies that the camera/microphone is active or like some would say, “hot”. This feature was first included on Apple’s iOS 14 / iPadOS 14 (2020) and Google’s Android 12 (2021).

Notification shade on iOS/iPadOS with indicators

On iOS/iPadOS a green dot indicates the use of any camera while an orange dot indicates that the microphone is being accessed by an app. If both are being used (like when recording video), the dot is green. If you have apps running in the background but still see the dots you can pull down the notification shade from the top to find out which app is accessing camera and/or microphone.

Button with indicators in the notification shade on Android

On Android it’s pretty similar, however, there’s no difference in color between accessing camera and microphone, the dot is always green. What’s different though is that right after an app accesses either the camera, the microphone or both, you will see a small icon indicating a camera or a mic before they turn into a green dot. While I do like the fact that iOS/iPadOS uses different colors, I find the initial display of icons on Android to be more useful and informative when first getting aware of this. It was only through these icons that I figured out what was going on. I had noticed it on iOS/iPadOS before but didn’t know what it was supposed to mean. Just like on iOS, pulling down the notification shade will give you more information. Tap on the button with the camera/microphone icon to find out what app is accessing camera/microphone.

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