Emergency help lies in your handset

24th September 2016
Emergency help lies in your handset

As government  mandates  panic buttons on   mobile phones, makers  slowly  respond
By Anand Parthasarathy
Bangalore, September 25 2016: The spate of attacks on women in recent years,   has prompted the Indian government  to   make    an emergency call button mandatory on all mobile phones sold in India, from January 2017.
An SOS from a phone by itself is of limited  help,  unless one can quickly establish from where it originated. So, government has also set a date --  January 2018 -- by which  phones must have in-built   location capability  based on the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite network.
These are all well meaning initiatives, but will the makers fall in line? The  global mobile handset industry is generally unwilling to customise phones for one country  in any aspect that affects hardware. Software is a different matter -- and most international brands  overlay the user interface with  localized extensions -- mostly making  money in the process through content providers.
The government's diktat   can be met in  two ways:  by a physical button somewhere on the face or back of the phone -- or by a virtual button on the screen, through software.  It  looks like  either will meet the requirement. The second option is simply achieved  and industry shouldn't  quibble , if it wants to do business in what is the world's largest  remaining market for mobile phones.  A feature phone,  industry jargon  for a basic  non-smart, non-touch handset   can't create a  virtual button. So  it will have  to get round the limitation, by dedicating a numeric key -- like 9 -- to invoke the SOS function.
The government order was issued in April -- and finally this month, a few  mobile phone makers have  answered the challenge and announced models with  an emergency button.  
One of the most affordable  is  Admire Star from the Indian maker, Zen Mobile, a dual 3-G SIM, dual camera, 4.5 inch screen, device running the latest Android 6 Marshmallow OS.  It offers an SOS feature that allows the user to send location details to  5 pre-selected numbers, in the event of an emergency.
Videocon, launched a  designed-in-India smartphone last week -- Cube 3 --  with a built-in "SOS--BeSafe" app.  It cleverly uses the power on-off button as  the panic button to send alerts to  the numbers  on the emergency list.  Making good use of   GPS,  Videocon has created a tool where  a map shows nearby police stations and hospitals. Other security -related features  include  'Alert', 'Walk with Me' and 'Reach on Time'.. all tools to assure loved ones of  your safety.   Cube 3 is basically a 4G VoLTE phone with 3GB RAM, 5 inch HD screen and a 13 MP  rear camera  -- for Rs 8490
|Women are not the only target customers for phones with emergency buttons. What about senior citizens?  Many still prefer the older candybar-shaped  feature phones with physical keys and a non-touch screen -- provided the keys are large and chunky.  SeniorWorld, a product portal aimed at the elderly,   features  an affordable ( Rs 3375)  handset for  seniors, called Easyfone.  You can dial up to 8  contacts just by pressing a single digit number,  indicated beside a photo of the person, on the 2.2 inch screen,   four  at a time.  Another  thoughtful feature: a cradle-type charger, much easier than having to plug and unplug the normal charging cord.  But most usefully, Easyfone has a large physical button on the back cover  which sets off multiple calls, text messages -- and a siren for immediate help.  You can set the Menu to English and Hindi.
This is the SOS button scene today. There are  90 days for the rest of the industry to  comply and make India the first nation, where personal safety is a default feature on all phones.