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Should Apple Watch fall detection be enabled for all ages by default?

When I reviewed the Apple Watch Series 4 last year, I admired its design changes but labeled some of its “new” features as invisible. Many customers may never need to know that the latest Apple Watch has built-in fall detection, for example, but it’s there in the background waiting to help if needed — though some will need to turn it on first.

I hadn’t thought about the feature on my own watch in months, but I was reminded it was there all along over the weekend after my first real fall since wearing the Apple Watch Series 4.

The trip was casual and I’m fine, but it was indeed unexpected and genuine. I was making a lap around the rink at my daughter’s skate party when my 18-month-old son decided he wanted me to pick him up. He was on foot and stopped in front of me just abruptly enough for me to take us both down. He was alright, just startled, and I was totally okay, just a little embarrassed.

Then I noticed the buzz on my wrist. I was impressed! Six months into wearing the Series 4, I finally had a genuine opportunity to test its fall detection feature without faking a stumble or actually getting hurt.

Apple Watch fall detection is powered by upgraded sensors in the Series 4 model that detect specific rapid motions that are common after a stumble (like trying to break your fall).

When the watch believes it detected a fall, an alert takes over the screen that asks if you’re okay while presenting a slider that will quickly call local emergency services. You can dismiss the alert with the ‘I’m OK’ button, or the watch will automatically call emergency services and notify your emergency contact after 1 minute if you’re unresponsive.

Calling 911 or the local equivalent requires a nearby paired iPhone or an Apple Watch with an active cellular connection, of course, which is one more reason to consider the LTE version when purchasing.

It was also a reminder that the feature is turned off by default unless the watch knows you’re 65 or older. From my Series 4 review last year:

Fall detection is turned off by default if you’re under 65. Apple says that’s because younger people often participate in activity that could be mistaken for a fall, like playing sports, but you can turn it on manually.

I frequently run with my Apple Watch and AirPods and nothing else. I stopped carrying my iPhone on runs when it gained LTE with Series 3. Fall detection and automatically alerting emergency services appeals to even me as a 27-year-old. The thought of stumbling during a run or even being clipped by a car in a hit-and-run is a real concern.

Apple warns that every fall cannot be detected, of course, but it’s a feature that has the potential to save lives.

If I skated (and tumbled) regularly, I might stick with the default and leave fall detection off to avoid accidentally calling 911 or needing to frequently tell my watch that I’m okay. But six months with zero false positives and one genuine alert is hardly intrusive or risky.

If others have the same experience, I wonder if the default should be that fall detection is on by default for everyone and easily turned off if you realize it’s misfiring based on your activity.

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Avatar for Zac Hall Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news for 9to5Mac and hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour and 9to5Mac Watch Time podcasts.