Smartphones are wonderful things that have helped people do so much more, be so much more productive and keep in touch with friends and family. Nobody will doubt the benefits of the smartphone for these tasks. What would happen though if you were to be in an accident, or incapacitated in some way. Could your smartphone be a barrier to bringing help and assistance?
Modern smartphones have lock screens that swipe in one way or another. Sometimes too they will have a pin unlock. Now these pin unlock screens by law have to include a button to allow you to make an emergency call, 999, 911 or 112, without physically having to unlock the handset. But what about people who don't have a pin code on their phone?
Modern smartphones are quite complex, and easily customisable. After you've used a smartphone for a period you'll be completely comfortable with where things are and how you access them. For people who have recently bought their phone, or just got an upgrade on their contract, this isn't always the case though. A friend of mine only yesterday had to make an emergency call, fortunately not a critical one, and found he had to swipe up the lock screen on his brand new Windows Phone, go into the People hub and then find the small icon that would bring up the call pad to allow him to make the call. This took valuable time. He wasn't familiar with the handset though as he'd only had it for a day.
Then there are problems with ICE numbers. For those of you who don't know it's useful to mark one of the contacts in your phone as ICE (In Case of Emergency). This is an idea piloted by a UK Police force and it gives the emergency services a valuable contact to call in the case you are incapacitated, and it's something that the emergency services will specifically look for on a handset.
With a traditional mobile phone you would just have a phone book of the people you like to call and who call you. On a smartphone though there can be contacts from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and more in your list, and finding the appropriate person to call can prove difficult or even sometimes impossible.
Modern smartphones are set up in such a way as the lock screen will provide you with useful information such as the time, date and any forthcoming appointments you may have. They're not set up to show you ICE numbers though. What's more PIN screens, while allowing you access to make emergency calls, won't allow you to call a next of kin, spouse or housemate in the event that you are hospitalised.
This all brings me back to traditional mobile phones. These too came with optional pin codes that would have prevented you from accessing the contacts list, though many would have given the option to bring up owner information. Here you could put a valuable second contact number for the emergency services.
I've spoken before about smartphone security, and how it needs to be brought front and centre of the smartphone experience to keep our data and personal information safe. However there also needs to exist a way to keep us safe and protected in the event that a disaster occurs.
This is something that the main mobile OS manufacturers, Apple, Google, RIM and Microsoft need to consider more as they build more and more security into our handsets by default. These updates, which are pretty much inevitable, will make it even harder for the emergency services to access our contacts information, or for strangers who may not have a phone of their own or be unfamiliar with your phone's operating system, to use yours to make an emergency call.
Overall I'd like to think that my phone is set up to allow this, I use a Windows Phone. As things stand though, there is no way at all for me to provide an ICE contact to people without leaving the handset permanently unlocked. So it seems that I'm damned if I do, and doomed if I don't!
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.