This story is part of iPhone 2022 focal pointCNET’s collection of news, tips and advice on Apple’s most popular product.
That’s what happened to Chuck Noland when the plane he was traveling on one Christmas Eve got caught in a terrible storm and crashed into the ocean, leaving him the sole survivor. For four years he was stranded, alone, on an island. If he had Apple’s iPhone 14he may have been able to signal for help from a satellite orbiting many miles above him.
Noland is a fictional character played by Tom Hanks in the hit 2000 survival film I reject. But the iPhone 14 is very real.
Over the past few weeks, Apple has released its latest iPhones and Apple Watches, all built with a series of features to make people feel more secure. This year, devices are designed to track while you are ocean diving, hiking off the grid or doing more mundane tasks like looking for a friend in a crowd or driving home from school. Between them, car accident detection and way to use satellites to call for help even when you don’t have mobile service.
“These products have become essential in our lives,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said when he announced the devices earlier this month. As if to emphasize this, company executives repeated the word “core” nearly a dozen times while showing off their latest products. “They’re always with you, useful wherever and whenever you need them, and designed to work seamlessly together on their own.”
These features may seem extreme – how often you go explore desolate deserts? – but they add to the sense of trust that Apple hopes to build. At a time when much of our collective faith in the tech industry has been shaken seemingly endless privacy violations, political controversies and blatant lies from technical executives, the very idea that Apple wants us to trust it even more might seem silly. And Apple’s marketing of saving our lives can seem overwrought.
Read more: CNET’s iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max review
If we don’t consider the power of the technology industry in our lives, we debate whether we have become too dependent on it all. It’s gotten so bad that some people regularly go on “digital detox,” seeking vacation spots outside of cell phone signals, hoping to disconnecting from the seemingly continuous pace of modern life.
But the iPhone maker has charted a path by relying on its health and safety features, along with a growing list of privacy improvements so effective that they have frustrated advertisers, law enforcement and other tech companies.
“Apple is taking this concept of personal safety and taking it to a whole new level,” said Tim Bajarin, analyst at Creative Strategies. He added that Apple’s competitors will also likely try to copy Apple’s safety features, but the tech giant’s larger approach to security, privacy and now personal safety will help it stand out. “They’re basically saying, ‘Look, we’ll take care of you, we’ve got your back.’
Although Apple is still adding new safety features to its devices, it has been focused on these ideas for many years.
In 2017, Apple added an additional feature to the Apple Watch to detect abnormal heartbeats, something many customers have since said warned them about health problems before a potential heart attack or stroke. In 2018, the company added fall detection for the Apple Watch, which calls emergency contacts and authorities if you don’t answer that you are fine after falling. It also continued to save lives.
While new features like crash detection and satellite help calls may be intended for Apple’s latest iPhone, the company appears to be trying to add safety technology to older devices as well. With its free iOS 16 software update for iPhone and iPad later this month, Apple will include Safety Check to help victims of domestic violence more easily avoid abusive situations. It also adds a lock mode, is intended to limit the communication functions of the iPhone to protect the owner from a potential hacker attack.
It doesn’t take much to imagine how Apple’s new satellite functionality will help people in emergencies. There are people like Aaron Ralston, a hiker and rock climber who in 2003 stayed for days in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park no phone or other way to call for help.
Read more: Apple Watch Ultra Review, ‘The Most Exciting Watch in Years’
What will set Apple apart, industry observers say, is that creating these technologies requires a complex interplay of software, sensors and infrastructure like enough satellites in the sky to make it work.
Apple said it worked with first responders to develop its Emergency Satellite feature, asking users questions about whether they were hurt and how badly, to more effectively relay information to people receiving help. It also had to build relay stations to call 911 in places where emergency operators don’t accept text messages.
“It took years to make this vision a reality through game-changing hardware software and infrastructure innovation,” said Ashley Williams, manager of satellite modeling and simulation at Apple, when she announced the new functionality.
Although no other tech company currently offers a similar feature, T-Mobile and SpaceX announced plans to offer similar technologies in the next few years as well. Verizon has a similar partnership with Amazon’s Kuiper project. Analysts say there is likely to be more.
As Apple transitions its 15th year of iPhone productionone of his most difficult challenges is how to reinventing the supercomputer in our pockets. Sure, the company can make the device run faster and improve the camera every year, but what more can it do?
Longtime Apple watchers say this year’s Apple Watch and iPhone may hold the key. “They’re trying to understand real issues that real people are struggling with,” he said Maribel Lopezanalyst at Lopez Research.
“Some of the features were for everyone and some of them were for very specific people,” she added. But they all revolved around solving long-standing problems like what to do when cell service goes down, in addition to basics like making devices less likely to break when we drop them. “We’re in a world where people just want to walk out the door with their phone or their watch and not worry about it.”