further review: sos

I wrote a post about how a smart phone feature can be a bargain version of an emergency medical alert, sending a message to a contact as a last resort. Emergency medical alert is an old idea, but since 2017, the ubiquitous smart phone has put all the pieces together to be a virtual replacement. In my review, I covered how to use the native feature in iOS as well as a few Android apps. One app, Call For Help, has updated to v4.0 with significant changes and warrants a further review.

My initial review noted that Call For Help lacked any confirmation that its alert mechanism was triggered. For example, pressing the lock button three times will trigger and send a SMS to your designated contact. However, without any confirmation, the user will never know if a message was sent. In my app review on the Google Play Store, I suggested adding a vibration confirmation. Well, I verified that v4.0 now uses a vibration confirmation when sending a message, though it still does not acknowledge the alert mechanism was triggered. Huh??

Those are actually two separate actions. When the alert mechanism is triggered, the app becomes activated in the background. However, sending a SMS occurs only when the phone is awake and unlocked. So using the feature means pressing the lock button three times, waking the phone if necessary, and unlocking the phone if necessary. Only then will a SMS be sent, and only then will the phone vibrate.

Unfortunately, this is a case of two steps forward but five steps backward. Another significant change in v4.0 is the elimination of ads – the core feature is truly free to use. Except that the feature now requires up to three steps, which defeats the purpose during an emergency. Adding insult to injury, the app continues sending a SMS every time the phone is awake and unlocked. The trigger mechanism basically raises a flag in the app, which survives on phone restart. The only way to reset the flag is by manually turning the feature off and on again within the app. This is a textbook example of human interface design failure catastrophe.