Apple Watches Are Mistaking Skiing for Car Accidents

Emergency services departments are not thrilled

Apple Watches
The Apple Watch Series 8 on sale at the company's Fifth Avenue store in New York.
Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

It’s amazing what smart devices can keep track of. There was a moment a few years ago when I realized that my smartphone was just as accurate of a step tracker as the dedicated step tracker I’d bought a few years earlier. How exactly these devices are engineered to differentiate one form of motion from another falls into the realm of trade secrets and patented processes. But the convenience by which they can do so is a wonder to behold. At least, that’s the case until the system thinks you’re in a life-or-death situation when you’re actually in nothing of the kind.

The New York Times recently described an issue faced by many Apple Watch users who are also avid skiers: the software in their watches believes they’re in a car accident when they’re actually just on their way down the side of a mountain, and dials 911.

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“Countdown to Kickoff” and “Match Mode” ensure you’ll never miss a second of the action. Which is key in a sport with no timeouts.

This is a problem for nearly everyone involved. The 911 dispatchers have to deal with a glut of calls that are not from people in emergency situations. The skiers have to deal with an ongoing nuisance strapped to their wrist. And, assumably, some software development team at Apple have been tasked with fixing something that has to be incredibly difficult to test.

Among the data cited in the article: the emergency services department of Summit County, Colorado received 185 erroneous crash notifications between January 13 and 22. Apple has, apparently, observed that department in action to get a sense of the scope of the issue. A spokesperson for Apple told The Times, “We have been aware that in some specific scenarios, these features have triggered emergency services when a user didn’t experience a severe car crash or hard fall.”

The Times also cites a few cases where the features in question worked as needed and alerted emergency services in the event of an actual emergency. It also featured the account of someone who, while leading a spin class, noted that their Apple Watch believed it was in an emergency situation. Technology can certainly solve some problems, but it can also complicate things along the way.

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