Sorting Out iPad Brightness Controls

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The iPad is a fairly intuitive device to use, but a few features can be just a little confusing — like sorting out why adjusting the screen brightness doesn’t always apply to all of your applications.

Apple’s iPad lets you adjust your system-wide screen brightness, and also the screen brightness for specific applications like ebook readers.

The iPad’s system-wide brightness slider.

To adjust the screen brightness for all applications, do this:

  • Tap Settings.
  • Tap Brightness & Wallpaper.
  • Use the Brightness slider to increase or decrease your iPad display’s overall maximum brightness. Lowering the brightness level can help extend how long you can go before needing to recharge your iPad, too.

The in-app brightness slider in iBooks.

In Apple’s iBooks ebook reader, look for the brightness symbol in the upper right corner of book pages, and tap the AA button at the bottom right of book pages in the Kindle app to adjust the screen brightness. Since those controls are in-app, you’d assume they control the brightness just for those applications — and you’d be partially right. The brightness slider in the Kindle app adjusts the brightness just in-application, but the iBooks brightness slider controls how bright your screen is system-wide.

As if that isn’t confusing enough, when you adjust screen brightness in iBooks, then hop back to Settings, the Brightness & Wallpaper settings slider hasn’t changed even though the screen brightness has. I found, however, that after leaving iBooks if I tap the power button to lock my iPad, then tap it again, the system-wide brightness I set in Brightness & Wallpaper has been restored. That sure looks like a bug to me.

The Kindle app has its own brightness slider, too.

Offering app-specific brightness controls gives iPad users more control over how they use their multimedia tablet, but does add some complexity since you need to keep track of your brightness settings in more than one location — especially since Apple’s own in-app brightness controls work differently than the Kindle app’s controls. Knowing where those settings are, however, makes it easier to understand why your screen brightness might change when you switch applications.

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Wow this is great to know - thanks!  Hopefully Apple takes some time now to dot the i’s a little more carefully on stuff like this.  The brightness in iBooks should definitely only be in-app IMO.



I suspect there may not be a developer API for changing the brightness of the screen. I’ve haven’t tried the Kindle app on my iPad but on the iPhone I have a digital clock app and its “brightness” control merely fades the colors towards black and has no effect on the actual brightness setting. That may be what the Kindle app does as well.

Dustin W

Yeah, the brightness control built into ibooks is a major f*you to 3rd party reader apps.  Manually setting the ipad to the lowest brightness then enter ibooks, why can ibooks set the brightness even lower than the lowest all other apps can?

Kevin Rees

The brightness setting in the iPad’s Settings app adjusts the LED backlighting. The brightness setting in iBooks just changes the shade or contrast of the page background (which obscures the backlighting). You can see this when you double-tap a word while the iBooks brightness is turned down—the pop-up that appears is much brighter than the rest of the screen. (Also visible in the Kindle example shown at the bottom of your post.)

This may not matter to anyone, but one benefit of adjusting the brightness using the Settings app instead should be increased battery life due to reducing the brightness of the backlight LED’s.

Dustin W

That is incorrect.  What you described is how brightness works in all apps but ibooks.

The slider in ibooks controls the lamp.  Set the lowest brightness in ibooks and exit to the home screen.  Notice that just after exiting the lamp raises in brightness.

Now try the same thing in the kindle app.  See the difference?

Kevin Rees

Dustin W.—maybe it does some combination of dimming the LEDs AND shading? I say this because (as stated in my initial post) if you double-tap a word with the brightness turned way down, the pop-up that appears is noticeable brighter than anything else on the screen. The only way I can imagine this happening is that the backlight is actually brighter than “necessary.” (or the backlighting can be controlled independently in the region of the screen showing the popup, but I think that is highly unlikely.)


Hi. I don’t suppose the iPad has a way of actually increasing the brightness (the classical concept of brightness, not the backlight strength).

When looking at photos they seem too dark; on my other computers pictures with low light look much brighter, I’m losing detail.

I suspect the answer is NO, and may have to wait for an update if enough people complain :(


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