If you’ve only been following the opening of this week’s Apple iPhone event, you may be wondering if you’re watching an emergency first responder training session.
Apple CEO Tim Cook kicked off the annual event Wednesday with a three-minute video depicting how the Apple Watch can save lives by calling for help. One man described how he skated on a frozen river when the ice melted. Another man survived a plane crash in a remote area in mid-winter. A high school student escaped a bear encounter.
In another example of the incident, a 27-year-old high school teacher went to the emergency room after her Apple Watch detected an abnormally high heart rate. According to the teacher, “My doctor said, ‘It was your watch that saved your life.”
Apple has long showcased its products as tools for creativity, productivity and an active, ambitious lifestyle filled with friends and family, healthy habits and outdoor activities. Some of these are still on display at this year’s event, but there is new information as well. The company is positioning many of its products and features as safety nets in a turbulent world.
Apple announced new crash detection technology on the Apple Watch and iPhone that purports to use the device’s barometer, GPS and microphone to determine “the precise moment of impact. “We really want you to never need it, but feel safer every time you get in the car,” said Ron Huang, Apple’s vice president of sensing and connectivity, in the announcement.
It also introduced a groundbreaking emergency SOS tool for iPhone that relies on satellites if, for example, you’re lost in the wilderness and cellular service isn’t working. It also introduced a new temperature monitoring tool on Apple Watch that can be used to track illnesses at a time when many people may still be struggling with the health anxiety of an epidemic.
Apple unveils a crash detection feature for its new Apple Watches.Apple
While it’s fair to say that Apple continues to focus on health features, particularly its smartwatch, the emphasis on these scary use cases has still caught the attention of industry observers. “It’s a little surprising to see Apple take an alarmist approach and position its devices as potential lifesavers,” said Ramon Llamas, research director at market research firm IDC.
In recent years, Apple has promised customers that its products could help create a safer digital environment for them – one with stronger privacy protections and family-friendly content. Now, its pitch appears to have expanded to ensure people’s safety in the real world.
“These emergency features are like the air bags in your car: you won’t always need them, but you’ll be grateful when you do,” Llamas said.
The shift in tone comes as Apple is facing a new economic situation that could make convincing customers to pay triple- and four-figure fees to upgrade their devices more difficult – especially when some of those products aren’t much different from the year before.
The company made relatively minor updates to its devices on Wednesday. The iPhone product line, for example, offers updates to the camera system, a new interactive lock screen and, on the Pro model, much faster performance. Meanwhile, the new high-end Apple Watch Ultra is aimed at extreme sports enthusiasts; while a market exists for rugged watches, not everyone needs to track deep-sea diving or triathlons.
Eric Abbruzzese, head of research at marketing firm ABI Research, said, “Making improvements to the revolution isn’t a bad thing, but if wallets tighten with the economy, then these announcements will be harder to market without anything groundbreaking.”
Abbruzzese said the focus on health and safety could also help Apple strengthen its subscription services business, which has been one of its fastest-growing revenues in recent years. As he noted, satellite connectivity is “free for two years only.” (Apple did not specify its cost after that.) In addition, “advanced health tools appear to be just another way to sell Fitness+ more strongly.”