Apple Patent Could Ease 911 Cellphone Calls

Engineers from Apple have applied for a patent on an "emergency" mode for cell phones that would squeeze every last drop of energy out of the batteries.

The phone would recognize emergency calls when the user dialed an emergency number, such as 911 in the United States. But a number also could be stored as an "emergency number" on the phone (a spouse, child, parent, for example) or the user could manually put the phone in emergency mode.

The process would do a variety of things. First off, it would disable "non-essential hardware components" and applications on the phone, reduce power to the screen (i.e., it would get darker) and potentially reduce the phone's processor speed. It also would make it harder to disconnect the call and enable "emergency phrase buttons" on the phone. GPS might not be considered non-essential, however, as it could help emergency workers find the caller - quite useful in case the caller, say, breaks his leg hiking in a remote area.

Here's the really cool thing: If it's an emergency and you can't speak, you can press a button and a pre-determined "emergency phrase" is spoken for you. For someone who's asthmatic and suffering an attack, the emergency phrase could provide that information to a 911 operator, for example. The caller could pre-record a message or use a pre-selected default message - and also inform the operator that he can't speak. One pre-recorded phrase could even suggest specific treatment. But wait, there's more:

The user may also press buttons to communicate other information, such as his/her location, and/or request the 911 operator to contact a friend and/or family member.

And these aren't just about making emergency calls. The patent indicates in several spots that the phones could be configured to preserve maximum power in case of receiving an emergency call, which likely will give parents a reason to heave a sigh of relief and rush out to buy an iPhone. Just remember, it's a patent application, and no phones have this yet.

The application also indicates there would be a way to prevent an emergency call from being disconnected without confirmation from the caller. Even if the caller hit disconnect, he might have to type in a code or otherwise indicate that he meant to hang up. The disconnection method could be customized, making it as difficult or as simple as the user preferred, even making it depend on what kind of emergency call:

The user may also select settings for each individual emergency number. For example, the user may disable the ability to disconnect a 911 call while activating a disconnect confirmation in other emergency calls.

Again, this is all theory at the moment, but the end result could be more lives saved. Not too shabby.