Our phones can do so much now, it’s easy to forget that “being able to call someone for help” is still probably the most crucial feature of “having a cellphone.” It’s arguable that Apple is the company most responsible for our phones being capable of doing all those extra things, but today, it let us know they haven’t forgotten the original, emergency purpose.
Apple just held its yearly fall event, announcing the latest iPhone 14 with emergency satellite calling, and the new Series 8 Apple Watches plus an all-new Apple Watch Ultra for extreme weather conditions and scuba diving. Usually, Apple product launches paint a rosy portrait of what the life of an aspirational Apple Man looks like: taking photos of your beautiful friends, biking along a trail with a view of the Pacific Ocean, sharing photos of your beautiful children.
But something was very different this time, something sort of, uh, unsettling. Instead of suggesting a gleaming world where everything is only getting better, instead, today we saw Apple’s vision of a future where everything is literally trying to murder us, and death lurks around every ring-closing outdoor jog. And frankly, it’s turning me into an iPrepper.
The event opened with a video montage of people describing moments where the Apple Watch’s ability to call 911 without a phone nearby had saved their lives: a small airplane crash, someone falling through ice, and — horrifically — a sanitation worker who accidentally fell into the back of a trash compactor truck (congrats on a new nightmare you had never thought about!). The Apple Watch has had fall detection and heart monitoring for a few years, which are particularly useful for older adults who are more at risk of heart attack or a hip-shattering fall. Anecdotally, I know a handful of adults in their 70s who purchased the Watch for these features. It’s certainly more chic than a life alert necklace.
Apple doubled down on the geezer pleasers with yet another safety feature: car crash detection. This feature exists on the new iPhone 14 too, and it works by multiple systems: The microphone, GPS, gyrometers, and other gizmos inside the device are able to detect the motion of a car crash. If you don’t respond within 10 seconds, it will call 911.
This is could be lifesaving in some cases, which is great! But also…how grim.
The rugged Watch Ultra, designed for extreme outdoor conditions like snow, deep water, high winds, or heat, is for serious outdoors athletes: ultramarathon runners, rock climbers, big wave surfers of Nazaré, scuba divers, heli-skiers. Buttons that are bigger and easier to press with snow gloves, tougher glass for when your hand smashes against the rock wall, long battery life for 48-hour runs in the desert, diving features like water temperature and pressure. At first glance, this all seems like happy and useful things for affluent sporty types with an REI co-op membership. But something darker lurks beneath the surface…all these features are for extreme climates — the kind of climates that we all may be living in soon.
Although the watch seems like it’s a fun device for a weekend hobbyist, it’s just as practical for survival in a post-climate-apocalypse. Droughts, tsunamis, avalanches, blackouts, outrunning roving gangs of cannibalistic bandits…this is the Apple Watch Ultra’s time to shine.
The most exciting feature of the new iPhone 14 series is the satellite emergency calling. For the first time, your regular phone can connect to a satellite when it’s off the cellular grid, allowing you to make emergency calls from the middle of nowhere (Apple will have its own staffed emergency call center, which will then connect you to local services.) Like car crash detection, this will undoubtedly save lives; there are hikers who die each year in US national parks after getting lost without cell service.
But there’s something eerie about the most exciting feature of the latest iPhone being “it might help if you’re about to die of exposure while lost in the woods.” We’re used to new tech products hinting at dystopia in more sci-fi ways: surveillance in our homes, algorithms running our lives, companies dry-humping our personal data. This hints at Old Testament dystopia: floods and plagues and wandering alone through the desert for 40 days.
Usually Apple events make me feel a sort of uncomfortable mix of being the pawn of an elaborate advertisement mixed with the more base desire of actually just really wanting whatever cool thing they just showed (but often stymied by the price). This time, it made me feel like I need to start hoarding beans and cans of water in my bunker.