Apple Just Revealed a Life-Saving New 911 Feature for iOS 12

The update will use location data in a big new way.


Apple announced a landmark iOS 12 feature on Monday, revealing plans to integrate its emergency location data with 911 centers across the United States. The feature, set to launch as part of the upcoming software update, means responders will be able to see a caller’s location, hopefully saving more lives in the process.

The company will integrate its hybridized emergency location data with RapidSOS’s internet-based data services. The location data feature launched in 2015 and uses a combination of cell towers, GPS and other sources to determine a 911 caller’s location. This new integration will mean the responding 911 center will be able to view this data during the call. Apple reiterated its focus on privacy by stating that only the responding center will have data access, and it cannot be used for non-emergency purposes. The company’s rollout beats the Federal Communications Commission’s deadline for carriers to locate callers to under 50 meters 80 percent of the time by 2021, with a system that exceeds this requirement and even works in dense urban environments.

Apple's iOS 12 will help iPhones relay emergency data.


The announcement received warm support from former chairpeople of the commission. Tom Wheeler, chairman from 2013 to 2017, described it as “an example of how companies and first responders can use technology to dramatically improve public safety,” declaring that “lives will be saved thanks to this effort.” Dennis Patrick, chairman from 1987 to 1989, described it as “transformative for emergency response in the United States.”

The commission has been pushing for such a system for years, with officials estimating that even a one-minute reduction in response times could save a staggering 10,000 lives per year. RapidSOS, founded two years ago, came in response to John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight segment decrying the state of old and outdated 911 response centers. RapidSOS’ system uses technology from a wider commission push called NG911, aimed at bringing new technologies to the emergency services.

Apple unveiled iOS 12 at the Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this month in the form of an initial beta, but the final version is not expected to launch until the fall.

Hopefully, the update will prove more successful than previous integration efforts. iOS 11, which launched last September, was linked to a spike in over 1,600 false 911 calls thanks to the ability to press the iPhone sleep button five times to start a new call.

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