Remember last year, when it turned out that Apple’s Crash Detection feature — which automagically spot when someone is in a car crash and alerts the authorities — was also a bit scared of rollercoasters? Well, it appears that was just the tip of the iceberg. Or, more accurately, mountain.
Yes, it seems that the speedy acceleration, jinking turns and sudden stops of skiers are also making the iPhone 14 and Apple Watch 8 panic unduly. Though non-skiers may consider hurtling downhill on snow at 40mph a fair reason to panic.
The New York Times reports that Colorado’s various emergency service operators are overwhelmed with automated calls from overzealous iPhones and Apple Watches. Indeed, in a nine-day period in January, Summit County received 185 false reports, each of which needed to be followed up upon, taking away time from genuine emergencies.
And in the French Alps, BFMTV reports a similar story, with one station in Val-d’Isère claiming 56 false alarms sent via Apple devices.
Part of the problem seems to be that skiers simply don’t hear their Apple device shrieking as it counts down to issuing an SOS message, because phones and watches are buried under several layers of clothing to counter frosty conditions.
This is potentially a bigger problem than rollercoasters for a few reasons. Firstly, as anybody who has built a death trap in Rollercoaster Tycoon will know, if you build unsafe thrill rides, people stop coming to your park.
In other words, theme parks are ridiculously safe, and Apple could quite easily turn off the feature within the coordinates of well-known theme parks without missing out. You can’t do that with skiers, because A) ski accidents happen, and B) skiers like going off-piste. Rollercoaster lovers can’t do that.
Rollercoasters also don’t really behave like cars — well, unless your car is hurtling uphill at a 90-degree angle and entering a corkscrew at 48mph, in which case you probably would want Apple’s SOS service on standby.
Skiers, meanwhile, do look a lot like cars to an algorithm without eyes. With an average speed in the 20-40mph range, Apple faces a dilemma in how it desensitises its products to the movements of skiers, while not excluding genuine car accidents.
It would be a shame if these false positives make emergency services take automated Apple reports less seriously. It’s a potentially life-saving feature, and it would be disappointing if Apple ultimately decided it’s too much trouble to support…
Image: Sebastian Staines / Unsplash