Chicago - September 6, 2015

Imagine being stuck in a moving car’s trunk, not being able to see where you are, and not knowing whether you can contact somebody without others hearing your voice? We all have seen these situations on TV and in movies and have prayed this does not happen to us. And hopefully it will not. But it is very reassuring to know that if we are ever caught in a situation where we have our phone with us and we need to alert someone of our location, we are able to do so, with the press of a button.


Smartphones are proliferating all age groups – children, adults, seniors. New use cases are being found where smartphone apps can add value. Personal safety is one of them. One can also extend the use case to natural disasters – earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes.

Many smartphone apps claim to provide “SOS” or “Alert” functionality – app developers call them by different names. Essentially they all attempt to provide you a way to reach friends and family when you are in danger. And also provide your location coordinates, so you can be reached.

What constitutes a good SOS app?

Reliability

Since the user will most likely use the functionality only when they are in trouble, it is imperative that it work that one time – with 100% reliability. It should not be the case that the app has not been updated for the past two years, and unfortunately is not compatible with the new version of the OS on the user’s smartphone. Or a myriad of such reasons. The user will also not do a test run of the SOS functionality on a routine basis. Therefore it falls on the app developers to make the SOS functionality foolproof.

Ease of use

 In an emergency, the user will not have a lot of time at their disposal. A few seconds maybe? A minute at the most. SOS functionality should not require pressing multiple buttons, passcodes, or confirmations like “Do you really want to send this SOS”? At the same time, it should not get triggered by mistake.

Method of delivery

Should an SOS message me sent via Email? Or WhatsApp? Or posted on Facebook? What’s the quickest means to get your friend’s attention when you are in trouble? An SMS is universal and can be delivered to all kinds of phones – even non-smartphones. But it also depends on your friend circle who you are trying to reach. It could be that they are most responsive to WhatsApp.

There are many other considerations – what should be the frequency of alerts, how many times to send the alerts (is indefinitely a good idea?), how many emergency contact should be allowed (not more than two or three?), should it be easy to turn the alert off (after all if a “bad” guy wants to do it, they could just smash your phone or simply turn it off from the power button) – to name a few.

Regardless of the SOS app used, it can never replace emergency response services like 911. Nor should anyone intend to use an SOS app to replace emergency response services.

At the end of the day, is that these SOS apps provide a peace of mind, some kind of reassurance? And most importantly - confidence. They are a good compliment to emergency response services.

Watch out for abuse – it is never a good idea to abuse a valuable service.

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