The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has made a new law that mandates that all phones sold in India should include a panic button. This means the Indian government can potentially ask Apple to change the iPhone design.
The bill was signed into law by I.T. Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who said, “[…] from January 1, 2017, no cell phone can be sold without a provision for panic button and from January 1, 2018, mobile sets should also have inbuilt GPS.”
What is a panic button?
The Law dictates that every smartphone should come with either of the following two features:
- A physical button that sends out an SOS message when pressed, or
- A dedicated ‘pattern-press’, where a combination of existing buttons will act as a physical emergency button.
Given Apple’s distaste for adding physical buttons on their devices, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll make any change in the iPhone design, let alone provide an extra button.
The alternative is tweaking the software to generate a “pattern-press” or “press-code”. It means that when the existing buttons (power/volume/silent/home), or a combination thereof, are pressed in a certain pattern, an emergency response mechanism is triggered.
Sounds easy enough to do, right?
Not really! There is an issue of calibration in adding a press pattern to smartphones.
On the one hand, you need the combination to be simple enough to be pressed quickly when there’s an emergency. If people are unable to recall the combination because it was too complicated, the whole “emergency” feature becomes redundant.
At the same time, the combination shouldn’t be so easy that it gets activated by accident. Something like “double press the power button” is prone to being “butt-dialed”, so to speak.
The emphasis by the government is that a user “should be able to activate SOS without use of touchscreen”, and by extension, without having to look at the phone. For example, a woman should be able to slip her hand simply into her bag, reach for the phone, and activate the emergency message without ever having to draw the phone out.
Why is the Government doing this?
Women’s security is the main reason. In the words of Prasad, “Technology is solely meant to make human life better and what better than using it for the security of women, [that’s why] I have taken [this] decision.”
The international media has been quite favourable to the proposition of Apple changing the iPhone design to improve safety for women. Certain Apple-centric podcasts went even so far as to suggest that Apple should incorporate this feature in all the other countries as well.
Will Apple comply with the rule?
The stipulation by the Indian Government is a reasonable one. More importantly, it puts the government on a moral high ground. “Women’s safety” will always trump “beautiful design”. So Apple has no authority to challenge it.
There’s also the fact that India is Apple’s one last surviving hope. It’s global iPhone sales have fallen and will continue to see a decline in the near future. If Apple can replicate its success from China in India, Tim Cook will breathe a lot easier.
Apple is already in a tussle with the Chinese government. It won’t do them any good to challenge another huge market right now. So we think Apple will not make much fuss about this and quietly play along.
Source: The Indian Express