Home Features Apple Watch: Fall Detection gets an unexpected trial run

Apple Watch: Fall Detection gets an unexpected trial run


Yesterday I was a front seat passenger in a car driven by a friend. An exuberant friend, I have to say. I was holding on for grim life as we negotiated a particularly sharp bend when my Apple Watch began to beep. It was an unfamiliar beep, a continuous beep that got me worrying. 

I lifted my left wrist and saw from the watch face that I was in countdown mode. The bomb was ticking. “It looks like you‘ve taken a hard fall,“ warned the Apple Watch. The device had started the countdown to making an SOS call for immediate assistance. Fortunately, I spied the “I fell but I‘m OK” button which I used to reassure the caring device that I didn‘t need an ambulance — yet.

This episode provided as painless a way of testing out the new fall-detection feature of the Apple Watch without actually falling on one‘s face in the mud. It didn‘t happen again, despite a few more interesting corners, but strangely I felt somewhat reassured to know that my wristwatch was looking out for me.


Health monitoring is fast becoming one of the most important reasons to choose a smart watch over the old Timex. The Apple Watch is already essential for me because it reliably tracks my heart rhythm. As someone who has a history of arrhythmia, which is not always obvious when it happens, I now rely on the Watch for alerts. So far, since I got my first heart-rate-monitoring Apple Watch some years ago, there have been no remarkable instances, but I am well aware that the risk is always there.

Fall detection is just another development and one which can be of great comfort for the elderly, especially if they are alone at home. The latest Series 4 Apple Watch (equipped with a cellular connection) can call 999, 911, 121 or whatever without your needing to be near a phone. If your watch doesn‘t have a cellular connection, you‘ll need to carry the phone around all the time — something I do when out and about but not always while at home. In this respect, if it is ultimate monitoring you desire, then the cellular Watch with its circa £5-a-month subscription, is the one to go for. It’s a small price to pay for the added confidence the system provides.

We are just at the start of health monitoring by wearable devices. For the moment, the cellular-equipped wrist watch is state of the art, but that could alter in the future.


I am wholly convinced of the benefits of health monitoring in this way. Very soon we will be able to take ECG readings via the iPhone. The facility is already available in the USA but not yet approved in other countries, including the UK. There are naysayers, of course. Those responsible for free state healthcare, for instance, worry that a horde of amateur ECGers will raise too many false alarms and put an undesirable strain on the service. This is as may be, but I believe it is better to have a hundred false alarms than one death. It will be a long time before millions are wearing Apple Watches and equivalents, but those of us who have already adopted the devices have a better chance of surviving if the worst happens.

Already we are hearing stories from all over the world of heart problems being flagged up by wearables. Almost every week we read of someone whose life has been saved by, in particular, the Apple Watch.

It is now an unstoppable trend, and I imagine that within a few years everyone with a diagnosed problem (and millions who don’t have a condition) will be told to get a watch monitor. I can even imagine smartwatches prescribed by doctors; they are likely to be more effective than even Norman Holter’s legendary snapshot device. Insurance companies understand the implications and in some instances are encouraging their policyholders to go out and buy a watch..

Call me a hypochondriac, but I am convinced that looking after your own health is the answer. All too often we hear of patients diagnosed when it is too late when earlier preventative action could have averted a crisis. Smart devices can’t detect cancer, nor can they yet assess blood sugar levels or other parameters, but they are currently on the ball with heart monitoring. The rest will follow, I am sure.

I am well aware that there is a tendency to dismiss all this technological assistance as, at best, pointless and, at worst, a means of feeding hypochondria. Others worry about health data being shared illegally through these apps. But I am prepared to take the risk. The Apple Watch is the future of health monitoring, and its capabilities will continue to expand.

Apple Watch and health

How to use Fall Detection (Apple fact sheet)

Apple will disrupt health care

Tech needs of the elderly

What cardiologies say about the Apple Watch

Why I changed my mind about the Apple Watch data plan

Wearables find big market with 55+ users


  1. I bought my Love an Apple Watch – a year and a bit ago? ..two years ago? – because she was forgetting her appointments.

    I showed her that if she put all her appointments in her ‘Calendar’ app on her phone, they’d all appear on her wrist – with reminders. She didn’t want to put her calendar, or diary, in her phone: she used her Mac instead. Simple enough; the Mac, too, would synchronise with her Watch via ‘iCloud’, or whatever.

    So far, so good. But the Watch needs charging every day-and-a-half or two days, whereas her usual watch needs a new battery only every two years.

    The problem was to get her to pop it on its charger at night.

    Then she bought me one, for Christmas the other year.

    Now I had sworn never to wear an Apple Watch, because it represented to me Jonathan Ive’s triumph of ‘design’ over any thoughts of any purpose for it ..which is what the late Steve Jobs would have brought to the project. Ive’s previous designs were objects which Jobs had conceived ..but here it was – or so it seemed to me – the other way around: Ive had conceived a product, but what possibly uses did it have?

    It was Ive’s conceit, it seemed to me, without Jobs’ restraint and sense of purpose.

    However, just to encourage my Love to wear – and to use – hers, I began to wear mine.

    Hmm ..it was quite useful: it had what I want of a watch (dual, or more, time zones; date; and day of the week), but it also showed MY appointments; I could even answer phone calls with it – for instance, while driving – and I could tell Siri to send a text message for me. I could pay for things with it (without that £30 limit imposed on ‘wireless’ plastic cards), and I could configure the watch face to show exactly what else I wanted: weather, appointment reminders, alarms, text messages (which I could reply to) and even my email!

    It just looks so damned ugly, and immediately shows its wearer to be part of a group which I don’t necessarily want to identify with. I prefer a traditional watch, which has actual, physical moving hands. I like my Tissot (part of Swatch) T-Touch, which has normal hands, but which align themselves as a compass needle when you touch the ‘Compass’ region at the edge of the face. I like the elegance of that: that instead of a liquid-crystal compass needle, the little stepper motors inside it align the hands to form a needle!

    I like that it has an analogue barometer; however far the minute hand sits to the left or right of midday (the 12 position), that shows how much the pressure’s dropping or rising. I like everything about my (quartz-driven) mechanical Tissot, and the mechanical ingenuity that’s gone into delivering info through the positions of the hands.

    Everything about the Apple Watch works, by contrast, through software.

    I like my cheap (£9.99) ‘Infantry’-brand simple quartz watch which has a dial marked in minutes (no hour numerals); a seconds hand; the date; and a circular hole which shows a (usually) one-letter abbreviation for the day (but Thursday’s shown by ‘Th’).

    I like my several cheap’n’cheerful – and colourful! – assorted quartz watches, and a couple of mechanical (self-winding, movement driven) watches.

    I (sometimes) wear my Apple Watch, but all the time that I’m wearing it – and using it – I just thoroughly dislike the idea of it ..because I don’t want to be seen as the kind of person who wears an Apple Watch!

    I don’t want to think that I look like a part of the Apple ‘cult’ ..I like to think that I’ve a mind of my own.. so maybe I’ll just create a circular bezel for it with my – as-yet unused, few-years-ago birthday present of a – 3D printer.

    I don’t want a Ming watch, either, nor a ‘branded’ MontBlanc watch (though their pens are OK), and I DEFINITELY don’t want a (ugh) ‘Leica’-brand watch on my wrist, whether new ( https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/leica-watch-l1-l2-introducing ) ..or even old ( https://tinyurl.com/leicawatch )!

    I like a watch that’s unnoticeable, unassuming, and gives no message about its wearer ..not even a message to the ambulance service that I’ve fallen over or that my heart’s stopped!

    • David B.
  2. I don’t know if it a smart device (?) but my friend and fellow Vet is Type 2 Diabetes, VA has him wear a stick on sensor,and he carries a monitor that looks like half of a flip phone, and using this combination it tells him his blood sugar levels. He thinks it has really improved his management without having to do finger sticks. Now on watches I was surprised my grand daughters wear them and are able to text me or call me, just like a smart phone my daughter can limit number of contacts depending on plan.

  3. For work I wear a branded heavy metal normal timepiece. Its functional and does what I need it to do.

    For rest, play and holiday I use my series 2 Apple Watch. I like it, but I predominently bought it for managing my running data, and for being able to review my running statistics.

    Is it any good. Erm. Yeah, its okay. I find running apps unreliable. So Strava, just fails to pass your data from watch to phone quite often. Nike running app does the same thing but less frequently. The propriety Apple one is relaible, until you get a random event. The last one turned me in to the six billion dollar man, where at one point I ran a mile in under two minutes. It seems to have been a GPS glitch, as the circuit I ran in the real world, doesnt match anywhere close to the one that came out of the watch.

    I do look at the health data from time to time, more to see what heart rate i have, and what is my lowest recorded (in the 40’s), and my highest (194 running up a hill). But other than that I do not use all of the functions.

    If I had a wish from Apple, make it more app friendly, certainly to ensure data actually passes between the watch and the phone for recording.

  4. Wow. I did not know this feature existed and should get this at some point. I was rear ended by a distracted driver at around 45K/hour in April and suffered acute concussion and other injuries. I have had extremely poor balance since the accident. I went for a walk in August and was going to try to get doing photography again. Luckily I forgot my camera as I fell into a river with deep mud and had to crawl out because I had no balance to get up and out. I was covered in mud. Then in November I spontaneously fell off a five foot height onto stones and bricks and suffered another concussion, renewed whiplash, and so on. I was at home and my was inside the house. I was in excruciating pain everywhere and it was all I could do to eventually roll over on to my stomach and try to assess if I broke anything. I was unable to get up. I managed to get my cell phone out and call my wife to come outside and help me up and to take me to emergency. I am only 64 but I am starting to realize that I am no longer an invisible teenager….

    • Sorry about your accidents, Brian. I hope you will recover and regain your balance so that you can enjoy doing photography once again. Various things happened to my friends and parents over the past few years caused me to pay more attention to my health. Even though, I am not in my old age yet but I need to make sure I can still hike mountains & do landscape photography in the future.

    • Brian, Sorry to hear of all your problems. I did know about the car accident, which you have mentioned previously, but more falls are annoying and painful. Let’s hope you make a full recovery, as you should at your age. Time to get really fit again before the big slow down starts. I think a Series 4 Apple Watch with cellular connection is something I would definitely buy if I were in your situation. It’s a relatively small price to pay for peace of mind. And you know what they say about going out with an umbrella….. you never need it.

  5. Mike , sorry but this sounds like the nanny state gone mad and a hypochondriacs delight. And how would it go on a brisk early morning run in a 911 up the glorious Yarramalong Valley and twisty Bumble Hill? Based on your experience it would urge me to summons all three emergency services after the first corner.
    No, my Swatch will do me just fine, thank you.

  6. Luckily I’ve been healthy all my life and am pretty fit in my 60’s now, I also wear a traditional watch which I much prefer over an Apple watch especially since i hate having all these devices to re-charge everyday BUT.. I freely admit that if I had a health problem of any kind I’d get one of these in a heartbeat and wear it on the other wrist.

  7. As with much in life, these devices are a bit like the parson’s egg.

    They are far from being something that comes about as a result of the nanny state though, quite the opposite, they come from America, where barring emergency treatment, a person has to think about how to address their ill health issues. Of course the first thing is to know that you have such an issue, and the watch is the very cheapest way of doing this.

    So that’s the good bit, and Mike wrote a lot more on those aspects and what is to come.

    The bad bit will be when the real nanny state, sees how much less it can do for the same amount of taxation or contributions, simply by handing these things out to various client groups.


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