Why Amber Alerts on Smart Phones are Broken, and How to Fix them.
Amber alerts on smart phones are broken and need to be fixed before everybody disables them.
By now all of California and Oregon have discovered that modern smartphones have a feature that lets the authorities message the user when a child abduction “amber alert” is issued. The idea started by using overhead freeway signs to alert truckers to vehicles involved in abductions and has since grown into something much bigger. The concept is sound, what’s not to like about saving missing kids? The implementation is actually doing more harm than good.
As implemented on the iPhone when an alert is issued the phone makes very loud klaxon noise and displays a message with the relevant information. However because the implementation is such a blunt instrument the first time it’s used many people (20% in my informal survey) disable it.
In the recent incident in California/Oregon the vast majority of people who received the alert were in no position to do anything useful with it and as such it become the boy who cried wolf, something that’s disabled or ignored because it’s perceived and inaccurate.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
First they could let you tune the behavior to just buzz or play a tone of your choice rather than the wake the dead klaxon (Android already has this ability).
Next your phone knows if it’s moving so logical thing is to not have the alert go off if the phone hasn’t moved in 10 minutes. If you’re asleep in bed you’re not going to see the vehicle in question so why wake you up? Instead the phone should display the message when it’s next picked up.
The last change that would be useful would be to stop thinking in terms of political divisions (cities, counties, states) and start thinking in terms of routes. Your phone knows where it is, alerts could be confined to phones on or near highways. In fact it would not be difficult to allow the authorities to specify which highways. This would eliminate bothering people in areas unlikely to be on the route of the abductor.
With those simple changes incidence of annoying false alarms could be reduced dramatically and as a result people would be less likely to disable the feature.
If you haven’t heard it – this is the sound an iPhone makes:
This entry was posted on Thursday, August 8th, 2013 at 10:48 pm and is filed under Social Media, Technology, User Interface Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.