The Department of Telecom’s (DoT) directive to phone companies to add a panic button on all smartphones and feature phones before next year, is being implemented by few Indian phone makers now itself. The latest line-up of phones by Intex and Videocon allow users in distress to use the power button to alert the emergency numbers on the user’s phonebook. This feature removes all the barriers that tend to slow down the process of getting help. In phones without a panic button user has to unlock the phone, search the number of the family and friend to make a call. Whereas in phones with panic button one just has to press the power button a few times and the phone will automatically send out text messages and calls to emergency contacts without asking the user to unlock the phone.
While initially, this applied only for the phone launched after January 2017, DoT widened its preview and asked phone makers to make this feature available on all existing phones too. DoT has asked them to install a software patch in existing handsets for the implementation of the feature in them. This is going to be an enormous challenge for phone makers to install a patch on million active smartphones in the country.
How it works
Since the DoT mandate Intex has introduced the feature in a few of its phones such as Cloud String V2.0, while Videocon has added this feature in its recently launched Cube 3 smartphone. Interestingly, none of the two Indian phone makers have added a separate button for it. The feature has been integrated within the existing power/screen lock button.
In Intex’s smartphones, the feature is called Emergency Rescue and can be found in the Settings menu. It works by pressing and holding the volume up and down keys together for three seconds. This will send-off a message along with the sender’s location coordinates will be sent to the emergency contacts. User can customise the emergency message while setting it up. To ensure the emergency contact doesn’t miss out on the alert, the phone will send the same message after every 10 minutes.
In Videocon Cube 3, there is a dedicated app called SOS-Be Safe, which offers some additional features as well. Here a user doesn’t have to press the volume button. Instead, pressing the power button at least three times quickly will send a message and your location coordinates to the emergency contacts. User can configure up to three numbers as their emergency contacts. It has an additional feature called Walk With Me which can come in handy when you are travelling late at night. It basically sends your location details after every 15 minutes if the location changes by 1km. You can add two emergency contacts in this. The Reach On time is its third major feature which sends out messages if the user doesn’t reach the destination within the expected time. To activate it, user will have to add a destination and time in it before they start. The app will use phone’s GPS to track your location constantly. The app also has an in-built map where it shows the nearest hospitals and police stations. it requires internet connection, though.
In smartwatches too
The feature has made its way into smartwatches too. The latest update to Apple’s watchOS (OS 3) includes an emergency SOS feature which will send out message based alerts by holding the power button on the watch for six seconds and tapping on the SOS option. However, it works only if the user’s phone is connected to an Apple iPhone, since a watch itself does not have any call or messaging capabilities in isolation. Besides alerts it will also send location details as long as the user is travelling.
SOS button in phones is not entirely new. We have seen several feature phones targeting women and senior citizens carry this feature in the past. One can also get special mobile trackers such as MapMyIndia’s SafeMate which uses GPS to track user’s location and has a built-in SOS button in case of an emergency. The DoT mandate is majorly driven by the increasing cases of crimes against women and the fact that almost everyone uses a smartphone or feature phone these days.