Explaining the Symbols at the Top of the iPad Screen

By Scott Shpak

A guide to common symbols at the top of an Apple iPad or other iOS device, for both the iPad itself and common native apps.

Apple has always stressed simplicity and ease of use in its products and this is reflected in the iOS operating system which powers the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. Where a new Apple user may face a learning curve is with some of the common symbols used across several iOS applications and utilities.

Status Bar Symbols

Wi-Fi and Cellular Icons

The symbols in the upper left corner of your iPad show connectivity status. Wi-Fi connections use the inverted cone with black and grey lines, indicating the strength of the Wi-Fi signal. If an iPad is out of range of a known connection or has not yet been set up for the current location, no icon appears.

Cellular connectivity is available on some iPads, and indicators may be much more varied, depending on your service level and local conditions. Signal strength is shown with climbing bars, although iOS 7 devices use five circles. Carrier companies and service levels, such as 3G, 4G or LTE, are displayed in text. A full list of status icons is found in the iPad User Guide.

Bluetooth and Power

Bluetooth and Battery Icons

The upper right corner of the home screen shows Bluetooth connectivity status and the iPad's battery state. The Bluetooth logo appears black when a device is connected and gray when inactive. Shutting down Bluetooth capability in Settings also shuts down the Bluetooth icon.

Your iPad's battery charge is indicated with both a battery icon and a percentage display. When connected to a power source, a lightning symbol also indicates that your battery is recharging.


Check for the lightning symbol when connecting your iPad to a USB port on a computer. Not all ports have enough power to charge iOS devices. The iPad displays the message Not Charging in this case.


Mail Icon Bar

Five icons in the upper right of the mail application control how you create and handle email. From left to right, these icons are:

  • Flag -- Tapping this icon gives you four options: Flag, Mark as Unread, Move to Junk and Notify Me. Tapping any of the icons performs or activates that function.
  • File -- This icon allows you to move the currently selected email to any other folder. Tap the file icon, then tap the destination folder and the email is moved.
  • Delete -- Tap the garbage can icon to delete the current email.
  • Left Arrow -- Tap the arrow to reply, forward or print the current email.
  • Compose -- Tapping the compose icon opens a blank email message.


Left-Side Icons

Safari Navigation and Reading List Icons

While the forward and back icons are self-explanatory and shared with other browsers, the book icon accesses three functions via its three tabs:

  • Bookmarks -- Tapping this tab gives you Favorites, History and iPad User Guide by default, and you can configure new folders or delete existing folders by tapping Edit at the bottom of the display.
  • Glasses -- Access your reading list by tapping the middle tab. Web pages are added to the reading list using an icon on the right side of the Safari icon bar.
  • Shared Links -- The @ symbol selects links shared by social media contacts for quick access.

Right-Side Icons

Safari Right-side Controls

The icons along the right side of the Safari interface provide both navigation and operation control. The refresh icon -- the circular line with an arrow -- is on the navigation bar itself and reloads the current Web page. The remaining three icons are to the right of the navigation bar. These icons are:

  • Share -- Tapping the box with the up arrow permits you to share the current Web page in a number of ways. You can send the link using Apple's AirDrop if there are other users nearby and, in a similar manner, you can send the link through iMessage, mail and social media accounts set up on your iPad. Other options include copying the link to the clipboard, sending the Web page to a printer, adding the link to your Safari reading list and  placing an icon on the iPad home screen.
  • Open Tab -- Tapping the icon that resembles a plus sign opens a new browser tab.
  • Tab View -- The overlapped rectangle icon switches between viewing a single browser tab and all open tabs on a single page for quick navigation.


Once you know what an icon does, it is likely that it will operate in a similar manner when you encounter it in another application. Some icons, such as the Share box, may appear at the bottom of the screen in other apps, but the functions remain the same.