Apple today announced iOS 12 would have a new feature which enables US-based users to automatically share their location with emergency services when they call 911. This new location-sharing would allow 911 centers to find callers location faster and with much greater accuracy than they can under the current system — and finally brings US users up to speed with those in Europe.
As Apple itself astutely observed, most 911 calls made these days come from mobile devices. To redress the fact that most 911 call centers have trouble locating such calls, Apple is collaborating with RapidSOS, an emergency tech company which adds a “data pipeline” through which the company can feed its Hybridized Emergency Location (HELO) data to emergency services.
According to RapidSOS’s press release:
Apple devices provide us with the best possible location on our smartphones every day. We firmly believe that the best technology should be available to 9-1-1 when it matters the most.
If this sounds a little familiar, it’s because Apple has already enabled a similar feature for European users earlier this year. In that case, it used a service called Advanced Mobile Location (AML), which is supported in several European countries but not the US. Before that time, Apple seemed reluctant to consider the feature.
Meanwhile, Android has had AML enabled since roughly 2016, but is also restricted to European countries. At last report, it’s collaborating with American emergency services to narrow down user location to within a 121-foot radius.
Apple reassured users via a press release their location data would only be shared with the responding call center, and never for non-emergency purposes. Apple CEO Tim Cook, meanwhile, spoke about how important 911 call centers are:
Communities rely on 911 centers in an emergency, and we believe they should have the best available technology at their disposal. When every moment counts, these tools will help first responders reach our customers when they most need assistance.
iOS 12 will mostly likely come out later this year, with a number of non-emergency updates including a boost to performance.