Emergency SOS In iOS 11: What It Is And Why You Should Care

There’s a new feature in iOS 11 called Emergency SOS. The intent of this feature is to ensure that you can call emergency services if you cannot safely dial 9-1-1, 9-9-9, or whatever your emergency number is. But since iOS 11 has appeared, it’s created a lot of noise and controversy. Take for example this Tweet from the Toronto Police Service:

Clearly some people are not using this feature as it was intended. That’s a #fail.

The purpose of this article is to explain what this feature is and how it works. But to do that, let me go back to and explain where this feature came from because it isn’t a new feature. Apple first introduced this SOS feature in iOS 10.2. That likely came from requests from India to meet India Department of Telecommunications requirements for this feature. Since then this feature made its next appearance on watchOS last year. Now we’re seeing it on the iPhone. Here’s how it works.

First of all, it’s always on and you cannot turn it off. But you can change how it works. By default, when you press the sleep/wake button on the iPhone five times on a device running iOS 11, it brings up a slider menu that allows you to quickly slide a finger against the screen to place the emergency call. That’s designed to stop you from somehow activating this feature accidentally. However, you can change this behavior to make it completely automatic. Here’s how:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Scroll down to “Emergency SOS.”
  3. Toggle on “Auto Call.”

What this will do is dial emergency services after a three second countdown that gives you enough time to cancel the call if it’s placed accidentally. This matches the behavior of the Apple Watch.

Now you can also send a text message or iMessage to people that you define as emergency contacts who will get a message from you and it will include your location. Emergency contacts can be set up in the Health app by doing the following:

  1. Open the Health app.
  2. Choose Medical ID.
  3. Select “Edit” in the top right corner.
  4. Scroll down to the Emergency Contacts section.
  5. Tap the “+” button to add an emergency contact.
  6. Repeat step 5 to add additional contacts.

There’s one other thing that this feature will do. It will temporarily disable TouchID if you actually make an emergency call. But if you cancel dialing emergency services, TouchID still gets disabled. In either case, you will need to enter a valid passcode to re-enable TouchID. This is handy if you want to discreetly disable TouchID as it leaves no visual indication that this has been done.

I should also note that when the iPhone X comes out, this feature will work a little bit differently. Emergency SOS will be activated by pressing the side button and the volume up button simultaneously, rather than pressing the side button five times. It will also disable FaceID since the iPhone X will not come with TouchID.

This is a great safety feature and I encourage you to read this Apple support document for the Apple Watch, and this Apple support document for the iPhone to get more information on this key feature. Just don’t needlessly try it out. Trust me. It will work if God forbid you need it and emergency services have better things to do than answer your test call.

 

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