iOS 12: New iPhone software update will share location with emergency services

Andrew Griffin
A participant uses her smartphone to photograph the green plastic balls pool she is sitting in at the annual re:publica conferences on their opening day on May 2, 2018 in Berlin, Germany: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Apple's new iPhone software will share its location with the emergency services.

The new feature, scheduled to arrive in iOS 12 in September, should allow people calling 911 to be found far more quickly, potentially saving lives.

Apple says that 80 per cent of emergency calls now come from mobile devices like its iPhones. But much of the infrastructure used to answer them is based on the landline-era – making it difficult for responders to find people when they call, despite the fact that mobile phones contain a precise way of finding and distributing their location.

Apple will make that easier by sending location to 911 centres, as people call them. By integrating iPhones with the software used to dispatch emergency services, the new technology should allow people to be found straight away.

It builds on technology released in 2015, called HELO (Hybridized Emergency Location). That allows phones to estimate their own location, using a combination of data towers, WiFi and GPS.

iOS 12 will now allow iPhones to send that information to 911 centres, when their owners call the emergency services.

“Communities rely on 911 centers in an emergency, and we believe they should have the best available technology at their disposal,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “When every moment counts, these tools will help first responders reach our customers when they most need assistance.”

The company has stressed that the location data will only ever be shared during emergency calls, and that only the 911 centre that responds will be able to see that data.

In recent years, Apple has introduced a whole range of features intended to make its products help out in cases of emergencies. Both the iPhone and the Apple Watch include tools specifically designed for situations where their users need to call 911.

The Apple Watch, for instance, includes an "Emergency SOS" mode that means people can quickly call for help if they need it. By pressing and holding the big button on the side of the Watch, and then swiping on the right button, the phone starts up its range of emergency tools – which ring 911 or the local alternative, and sends a message to emergency contacts with a user's location.

The phone has borrowed some of those features, too. If a user rapidly taps the button on the side of the phone, or holds down the side button and volume button on newer models, an emergency slider will appear and can activate similar features to on the iPhone, as well as locking down the handset so that it can't be spied on.