A new feature has appeared in iOS 5(s aapl): It’s a built-in notification system tied to Japan’s sophisticated earthquake-early-detection service, which can provide between a few seconds and a couple of minutes of advance notice prior to an earthquake’s actually hitting. The new notification can be activated or deactivated from within the Notifications pane of an iPhone’s settings on Japanese devices, according to 9t05Mac.
Japan’s early-warning system for earthquakes is the “most advanced in the world,” according to Time magazine,(s TWX) and with the change, iPhones will be able to receive messages broadcast by the service that are pushed to devices by the carriers. Previously, third-party apps provided a similar function, but Apple’s making this a system-level tool will ensure that if users want to receive those notifications, they won’t have to make sure that an app is running in the background or that they have installed a specific app.
The iPhone is far from the first device on the Japanese market to plug into the earthquake-early-warning system. Feature phones in Japan have offered a similar ability for years. But it is a sign that Apple is willing to make modifications to its iOS software that are regionally specific when it comes to safety issues. Other places in the world, including Mexico, also have early-warning systems in place for earthquakes and other natural disasters like tsunamis and tidal waves. California is set to see its own early-detection system up and running sometime around 2013. Emergency notification alerts about things like wildfires that are triggered based on your device’s location might also prove effective in helping people steer clear of danger.
Apple probably can institute similar tools the world over, but whether it will is another question entirely. In Japan, the service is offered on many other devices, so there’s a clear precedent. In other parts of the world, such precedents might not exist, and such a system might even encourage some to sue or seek damages if warnings don’t work properly or fail to prevent injury.
Since people are turning more and more toward smartphones and away from broadcast sources for news and information, I think opt-in OS-level warning and notification systems for things like dangerous weather systems and natural disasters is a great idea. Here’s hoping this addition to iOS 5 is a first sign that Apple agrees.