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How Android's emergency call shortcut ruined my morning!

Ben Ambulance
© Alexandr Zadiraka / Shutterstock.com

Yes, it could have also saved my life. But not today: What started as a beautiful morning turned into my personal Pearl Harbor disaster within a few keystrokes! Because my Pixel 6 automatically sent an emergency call to the authorities after a key combination that I still haven't figured out. What's left is amazement and annoyance at Google turning such a vital matter into yet another digital mishap.

Cycling through Berlin at half-past eight in the morning after the onset of winter is not a nice thing in and of itself. To motivate myself, I listen to progressive metal by the group around guitar virtuoso Tosin Abasi (Animals as Leaders, if you have an affinity for guitar, definitely give them a listen). They usually give me the necessary energy. Instead, the too-loud music was the impetus for a chain of events I won't forget anytime soon. What follows is an account of the events:

What happened on the morning of December 2 in Berlin-Friedrichshain.

As already mentioned, I was riding my bike and listening to music. While trying to turn it down a bit, I caused the opposite to happen while blindly tapping the hardware buttons on my Google Pixel 6 in my pocket. As the music grew louder and more deafening, I began to panick. With fingers as fast as an arrow, I frantically searched for the right button and suddenly ... and I quote:

Duuuuut duuuuut, duuuuut, lingelingelingelingeling - the emergency services will be contacted

- Ben's Google Pixel 6

Some key combination I pressed blindly suddenly put out an emergency call. In the middle of approaching an intersection – I had a green light, of course – I had to try to cancel the threatening emergency call. But I only had an estimated two or three seconds. In those, all I managed to do was half-stand, half-cry on my smartphone as it sent out my location.

While my right OnePlus Bud(s) Pro fell out of my ear in the heat of the moment, in the direction of the street, an automatic tape announcement from the Berlin fire department was already sounding in my left ear. I shouldn't have done it, I know, but I hung up the phone, still in a state of sheer panic. Knees weak, I scurried across the street still wearing a bright orange helmet and picked up the lost in-ear Bluetooth earpiece.

Google Pixel Emergency
You can see the emergency button directly in Android 12's power off menu / © NextPit

What's left is uncertainty. And shock at the experience. And somehow a great deal of anger at Google integrating emergency calls into easy to accidentally activate system features.

Why Google's emergency call integration makes me angry

Don't get me wrong – if Google's feature saves just one life, then my stressful morning was worth it! But at the same time, I find it very critical to be able to accidentally make a real emergency call via an error-prone emergency call system in such a short time. Because how to intentionally make an emergency call in Germany – and in any other countriy – is something you (should) learn in school.

On my Pixel 6, I can access the keypad from the lockscreen and dial an emergency call from anywhere, even without a SIM card. A procedure that is no less than a component of our daily socialization. Internalized to such an extent, in other words, that in a real emergency I can resort to it immediately and without much rational thought. Never in my life would I take the mental detour of typing in a key combination via the volume buttons and using the Google feature to make an emergency call in such a situation.

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Maybe I'm an isolated case there, though. And certainly, Google's feature is more accessible than entering numbers via a keypad. So if Google's feature adds extra security, that's good! But in my opinion, there needs to be a clear indication that a real emergency call will be made in a few seconds. And there needs to be the ability to cancel it in a realistic amount of time, even with casual smartphone use. A countdown would be great and simple. But a warning signal that is completely unknown to most users is not at all.

What do you think? Have you had similar experiences with your smartphone? Antoine just told me in Slack about the same experience with another mobile phone! And I'm curious if this feature has ever helped you.

Benjamin Lucks

Benjamin Lucks

Ben has been working in tech journalism since 2018, was a freelancer in the middle of the CoVid-crisis and has been full-time at NextPit since November '20. Since then he has tries to find the right mix between professional competence, humor and fresh perspectives in reviews and texts.

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  • RainaElf Dec 3, 2021 Link to comment

    i hate it. i'm always afraid i'll somehow hit the emergency button accidently.


    • Zois Bekios Zannikos Dec 4, 2021 Link to comment

      Yea i had similar problems. I would keep it in my pocket and when I took it out I would see like a combination of 20 numbers randomly pressed on the emergency tab. I guess its only a matter of time xD