Apple Wants the iPhone to Be a Lifesaver, Literally

This story is part of Focal Point iPhone 2022CNET’s collection of news, tips and advice about Apple’s most popular product.

Back in 2000, the story of Chuck Noland gripped the country. He was traveling on a plane to work on Christmas Eve when it hit a terrible storm and crashed into the sea. He was the only survivor. For four years he was stuck alone on an island. If he had Apple’s iPhone 14may he have been able to signal for help from a satellite orbiting many miles above.

Noland is a fictional character played by Tom Hanks in the successful survival film Cast Away. But the iPhone 14 is real.

Over the past few weeks, Apple has released its latest iPhones and Apple Watches, all built with a variety of features to make people feel safer. This year, the devices are designed to track who you are diving in the sea, hiking off the grid or doing more mundane tasks like looking for a friend in a crowd or driving home from school. Among the features are registration of car accident and a way to use satellites to call for help even when you don’t have mobile service.

“These products have become essential to our lives,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said when announcing the devices earlier this month. As if to emphasize the point, company executives repeated the word “essential” nearly a dozen times while showing off its latest products. “They’re always with you, useful where and when you need them, and designed to work seamlessly together on their own.”

These features may seem extreme – how often they do you go exploring in desolate deserts? — but they add a sense of trust that Apple hopes to instill. At a time when much of our collective faith in the tech industry has been shaken seemingly endless breaches of privacy, political controversies and bald-faced lies from tech executives, the very idea that Apple wants us to trust it even more might seem silly. And Apple’s marketing about saving our lives can seem exaggerated.

Red iPhone 14 surrounded by a ring of light

Apple’s new iPhone 14 has better cameras and faster chips, but it also has features that can save people’s lives.

James Martin/CNET

Read more: CNET’s iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max review

If we don’t count on the power of the tech industry in our lives, we debate whether we have become too dependent on it all. It’s gotten so bad that some people regularly go on “digital detoxes” and seek out vacation spots beyond mobile carrier signals in hopes of disconnect from the seemingly nonstop pace of modern life.

But the iPhone maker is carving out a path by leaning on its health and safety features along with a growing list of privacy enhancements so effective they’ve frustrated advertisers, law enforcement and other tech companies.

“Apple is taking this concept of personal security to a whole new level,” said Tim Bajarin, analyst at Creative Strategies. He added that Apple’s competitors are also likely to try to copy Apple’s security features, but the tech giant’s larger approach to security, privacy and now personal security will help it stand out. “Basically, they’re saying, ‘Look, we’re going to look after you, we’ve got your back.'”

Apple Watch Series 8 displays an ECG message

The Apple Watch has been credited with alerting many people to previously undetected heart conditions.


Increased security

Although Apple is still adding new security features to its devices, it has been focused on these ideas for many years.

In 2017, Apple added an optional feature to the Apple Watch to detect abnormal heartbeats, something many customers have since said warned them of health problems before a potential heart attack or stroke. In 2018, the company added fall detection to the Apple Watch, which calls emergency contacts and the authorities if you’re unresponsive that you are okay after a tumble. It has also saved lives.

While new features like crash detection and satellite calls for help may be designed for Apple’s latest iPhone, it appears the company is also trying to add safety technology to older devices. With its free iOS 16 software update for iPhones, Apple is adding Safety Check to help victims of domestic violence easier to escape situations of abuse. It also adds lock mode, intended to limit iPhone communication functions to protect the owner from a potential hacking attack.

It doesn’t take much to imagine how Apple’s new satellite functionality will help people in an emergency. There are people like Aaron Ralston, a hiker and climber who in 2003 was stuck for days in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park without a phone or any other way to call for help.

Read more: Apple Watch Ultra Review, “The Most Exciting Watch This Year”

What will set Apple apart, industry observers say, is that the creation of these technologies required a complex interplay of software, sensors and infrastructure like enough satellites in the sky to make it work.

Apple said it worked with first responders to develop its emergency satellite feature and asked users questions about whether they were injured and how badly to more effectively relay information to people getting help. It also had to build relay stations to call 911 in places where emergency operators don’t accept text messages.

“It took years to make this vision a reality through game-changing hardware software and infrastructure innovation,” Ashley Williams, head of satellite modeling and simulation at Apple, said in announcing the new functionality.

Although no other technology company currently offers a similar feature, T-Mobile and SpaceX has announced plans to also offer similar technologies in the next few years. Verizon has a similar partnership with Amazon’s Project Kuiper. Analysts say more are likely on the way.

Growing trend

As Apple passes its 15th year making iPhonesis one of the toughest challenges it faces, how reinventing the supercomputer in our pockets. Sure, the company can make the device work faster and improves the camera every year, but what else can it do?

Longtime Apple watchers say this year’s Apple Watch and iPhone could hold the key. “They’re trying to figure out the real problems that real people are struggling with,” said Maribel Lopezanalyst at Lopez Research.

“Some of the features were for everyone and some of them were for very specific people,” she added. But they’re all about solving long-standing problems like what to do when cell service doesn’t work, in addition to basics like making devices less likely to break when we drop them. “We’re in a world where people just want to walk out the door with their phone or their watch and not worry about it.”


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