"I've fallen and I can't get up!" was the memorable catchphrase used to advertise a wireless medical alert for seniors that was first used in 1989 by LifeCall and later by Life Alert.
Today, anybody in the U.S. with a cell phone can call -- and usually even text -- 911 when in need of help, either in a medical emergency or when in danger.
Apple took the idea of a quick wireless call for help one step further on Monday when the company announced the SOS feature for Apple Watches, coming this fall in the new watchOS 3.
SOS will quickly let a user call for help by pressing and holding the side button on an Apple Watch running watchOS 3 "no matter where they are in the world," according to Apple publicity.
The call is made via cellular wireless through an iPhone connected by Bluetooth to the watch or through Wi-Fi if the watch is connected to a Wi-Fi network. The call will go to local emergency services, such as 999 when a user is in Hong Kong and 911 in the U.S., according to Kevin Lynch vice president of technology at Apple.
After the call is made, the watch will automatically send a map and a message to a user's emergency contacts so they know where the user is. There will also be the ability to add a user's medical ID to the watch, with information such as age and allergy information, he added.
"We're finding people who wear an Apple Watch wear it all the time," Lynch said, which gives the SOS feature the ability to be a quick-response app, referred to in the industry as a panic app.
Lynch and Apple certainly didn't headline SOS in presenting the various watchOS 3 improvements, and it is mentioned only in passing on the Apple web site. The biggest and most promoted improvements to watchOS 3 include quicker interactions, such as an app launch time that's seven times faster than before.
In fact, the biggest applause from WWDC developers for the watchOS update came when Lynch showed off a new Minnie Mouse watch face to complement the existing Mickey Mouse watch face. Users can also customize Minnie's outfit to change the color of her dress to match the color of an Apple watch band -- another big crowd pleaser.
Watch styling, watch faces, app performance and fitness and health apps were a big focus of Apple's watchOS presentation on Monday and have been a big focus for other smartwatch makers. But the SOS feature stands out as an important new direction for Apple and other smartphone makers.
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