Slip, trip, fall: The Apple Watch calls for help

Mala Bhargava | Updated on March 06, 2019 Published on March 06, 2019

The Fall Detection feature could be a life saver for those prone to taking a tumble

I’m a great one for falling down. Sometimes I miss a step, sometimes I twist an ankle in a pothole or sometimes I just trip over my own two feet. So the one thing I did when I moved to the Apple Watch Series 4 was to enable the Fall Detection feature. Not that it will hurt any less when I fall, but it feels safer to know that someone will come along and help. Here’s how that’s done...

If you’re over the age of 65, the Fall Detection feature will already be enabled (since your age data is floating around somewhere in any case), but if you’re younger and prone to falls, head to the Watch app and scroll around to look for Emergency SOS. Here, fill in the preferred phone numbers for what service or contact to call if needed. Scroll further down until you see the Fall Detection toggle and turn that on.

For good measure, you can also get into the iPhone’s settings and search for Emergency SOS and review all the options given there and make sure everything you’d like — such as calling with the side button or a countdown alert — are enabled. Now, should you happen to fall, which one hopes doesn’t happen, the watch will detect it and give you a tap on the wrist by which you’ll be aware detection has happened. Then, an alarm sounds and the watch displays a question on whether you’re ok. If you are, you can tap and dismiss the alert, ending the detection sequence. If you don’t, the watch will go ahead and call services and send coordinates on your location.

Algorithms to go

Although there’s a warning on how very active people can trigger off the alarm, it’s apparently quite difficult to get it to falsely detect a fall with normal everyday activity like exercise. You can’t easily fake a fall, for instance, and wait for the watch to call the ambulance. It takes a hard fall and specific types of falls. Apple has actually worked to feed 2,50,000 days worth of algorithmic data into the working of the watch so that it is able to have a pretty good idea of what kind of fall can occur. The watch uses its accelerometer and gyroscope to detect a fall from which a person isn’t getting up. This is the same mechanism that is also able to detect what kind of swimming stroke a swimmer is using and give exercise points accordingly, including for the type of turn at the end of the pool. The watch can distinguish between slips and hard falls including when a person’s hands land hard on the ground to cushion the impact. A bunch of reviewers from the Wall Street Journal used a stunt actor to test fall detection and indeed found it wasn’t easy to fake it. A proper hard fall, however, did invariably work.

Apple Watch Series 4 (the Fall Detection feature is not available on previous models) doesn’t necessarily register events like car crashes. For other emergencies, it’s a good idea to opt for the cellular version of the watch and enable the Walkie Talkie feature so one can quickly manage to talk to a contact at least. For anyone who uses an Apple Watch, it’s a good idea to make sure the emergency call feature is enabled so that pressing the side button thrice in quick succession can call services.

What are the options?

Apple’s watch is by no means the only fall detection product around. Companies have been working on medical alert systems for many years, especially for the elderly. However, available devices are few and far between and those that are available have multiple issues raised in user reviews. Apple offers a more unique combination of positives but can’t be considered as a fall detection system alone. It does, after all, involve the purchase or ownership of an iPhone and not just the Apple Watch Series 4. For those already using an iPhone — even an older one — the watch is something to consider if there is enough worry about a possible fall, not just for the elderly but for young highly active users. There are amazing occasional reports of the Apple Watch having been a saviour when someone took a hard and paralysing, even life threatening fall, even in users far younger than 65 years of age and none of it not working when enabled in the instance of a fall. But it isn’t an easy feature to test. If you or anyone you know is especially vulnerable to a fall, it may be a worthwhile investment.

Published on March 06, 2019
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