The Apple Watch Series 5 is now out and while it’s not a major upgrade to the Series 4, it has gotten some cool new features such as an always-on display, call blocking and period tracking.
One upgrade in particular that’s gotten some press coverage is the automatic emergency SOS calling when the device detects a fall, which now works when you’re overseas too. Here’s how it works.
The news of a man falling during a Seattle mountain bike ride and miraculously surviving broke around the world in September 2019. Images indicated he had gotten some nasty head injuries, but it was how he survived that made the story so interesting.
While the man was unconscious, his Apple Watch Series 4 had alerted his son the man had taken a ‘hard fall’ and provided the location where it was detected. But by the time his son had arrived to check on him, the man had already been taken to hospital because the watch had called emergency services.
An Apple Watch had likely saved his life.
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So, how does it work?
The Apple Watch Series 4 and 5 can detect when you take a hard fall. Using the device’s accelerometer and gyroscope technology, a ‘hard’ fall is determined on the basis of wrist trajectory and impact acceleration.
Once that happens, it will alert you by buzzing, sounding an alarm, and displaying an on-screen alert for one minute. After that minute’s up and you haven’t moved though, another 30-second countdown will begin, while the watch continues to alert you, and then it will proceed to call emergency services.
The watch plays an audio message to emergency services, giving them your latitude and longitude coordinates, which continues until emergency services end the call or the fallen user responds to let them know any further information.
If you’ve set up an emergency contact, it’ll also let them know what’s happened and where you are.
If you’re actually fine or you’re just doing your rigorous workout regime, you can dismiss the alert before any calls are made by tapping “I’m OK.”
But Apple admits on its site it’s not always accurate. “The more physically active you are, the more likely you are to trigger fall detection due to high impact activity that can appear to be a fall,” Apple said.
Still, many would probably argue life-saving fall detection by the watch will always outweigh the minor inconvenience of switching off a false detection.
What if I have a WiFi model?
If your model doesn’t have cellular capability, it can’t call anyone without Wi-Fi. It’s still possible for the feature to be used with a non-cellular model but it’ll need to be near your iPhone or within a known Wi-Fi connection. You’ll also need to have Wi-Fi Calling switched on.
Head to Settings, then Phone and select Wi-Fi Calling. This means your watch can now be used to call using a Wi-Fi network.
What if I’m overseas?
The feature will still work if you’re overseas if you have a Series 4 or 5 and in range of a connected iPhone with roaming switched on. It’ll automatically call the local emergency service and provide them with your location if you take a hard fall.
If you have the Series 5 cellular model, you’ll be able to make a emergency call without being in range of your iPhone but it won’t provide emergency services with your location. It’s understood the services could triangulate your position and the audio message will play in the emergency service’s language so if you’re China, it should play in Mandarin and in Canada, either in English or French.
The feature is not available while in the following countries:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Dominican Republic
- Puerto Rico
- South Africa
Has it saved anyone’s life yet?
Aside from the recent story coming out of the U.S., Apple Watch’s fall detection feature has been attributed for getting a few people out of bad situations.
In July 2019, a Sydney mother, suffering from epilepsy, had a sudden collapse within her home while, according to news.com.au. She at home by herself but the Apple Watch she was wearing alerted emergency service and an ambulance was sent out to the residence.
Her husband was also notified of her hard fall and her location as she was taken from their home to the hospital where she was held for four days. Without the fall detection feature, the mother might’ve had to wait hours until someone returned home to realise what had transpired.
How do I turn this feature on?
While the feature is incredibly useful for people of all ages, it’s switched off by default for users under the age of 65.
To fix that ASAP, head to the Apple Watch app on your iPhone and click on the My Watch tab. Once there, search for Emergency SOS and slide Fall Detection on.
Can I put my mum down as an emergency contact?
Yes, and to do that, you’ll have to head to the Health app. Once there, choose Medical ID and hit that Edit button. Scroll to Emergency Contacts and add them in, similar to adding in a regular phone contact.
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