The problem with how AMBER Alerts are handled on iOS and mobile

The problem with how AMBER Alerts are handles on iOS

The emergency alert system in iOS is meant to save lives, either the lives of children with the AMBER Alert system, or lives in general with natural disaster warnings. However, not all alerts are created equally, and unfortunately, not all iOS alerts are as informative or interactive as they need to be. Craig Hockenberry has broken down the problems with the AMBER alert received by many Californian's last night. From Furbo:

My wife's first question as I looked at my phone was "Are we having a tsunami?" (we've had these kind of emergency broadcasts before.) I replied with, "No, It's an AMBER Alert". To which she replied, "What's that?"

And therein lies the first problem: I had no idea.

Unlike all other notifications on my iPhone, I couldn't interact with the alert. There was no way to slide the icon for more information or tap on it in the Notification Center to get additional information. Through a combination of Google and my Twitter timeline, I eventually figured it out.

It might create a better user experience if the terminology is clearer, the messages simpler, and a way is found to provide additional information for people who need it. Hockenberry breaks down the issues, including why emergency alerts are exempt for Do Not Disturb, that the sound is specified by the government, and what, if anything - including filing a radar - can be done about it. Check out his post.


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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

The problem with how AMBER Alerts are handled on iOS and mobile


Our first was a 2:00 AM wake up for an alert 400 miles away from us. I think almost everyone would want to be "on call" for some form of Amber alert, but I think its present implementation causes many people to check out entirely. The alert radius has to fit within a reality window (400 miles seems too broad). And honoring some form of DND (even with a quiter alarm or silent notice) would allow people to opt-in to be on call 12-16 hours as opposed to the system now which forces an all-in or all-out approach.

Police believe the suspect and the victims are moving to Texas or Canada. Thats why they alert you. It takes only 6 hours to move from LA to SF.
If they believe the suspect and victims are in Texas, there will be an Amber alert issued in Texas upon request by police.

Hockenberry: "And if you’re like most people, you had no idea what it meant."

Does he live under a rock? I don't know anyone who doesn't know what an AMBER alert is. Yes, it would be more helpful if it included a link to more information, like specific location or a photo of what to be looking out for. But if you live in the U.S. and don't know what an AMBER alert is, your license to own a smartphone should be revoked.

Seriously, every overpass lights up with a message when there's one. The news blasts it everywhere. I wouldn't publicize that I was that ignorant. And the alert told plenty of info, it told the car make, the color, and the license plate number. That's all you need to identify and call the police if you see the car.

US government spends money on those alert system to make our country more secure. So do not try to ignore or disable them.
Whats the point to build those alert system if you just ignore/disable them on your phone?
American is so lucky to get those alert system. People in other countries are dreaming of them.

It would be nice if iPhone 4 users could have this feature but we don't.

Sent from the iMore App

Just something else to complain about. Get a flip phone and call it a day.

Sent from the iMore App

The notification doesn't tell you anything besides there IS an AMBER alert. It should at least give you a link for details about your specific alert.

The Amber alert I received last night really was quite explicit with the information. It supplied the make, model, color and license number of the vehicle and the source location of the Amber Alert. More than enough detail for someone out on the road to keep an eye out for.

an iPhone user is bothered by a notification of a missing child and upon getting an education, writes to complain about it. Color me shocked.

Bunch of entitled, self absorbed morons. If you don't know what an amber alert is that's the fault of your own ignorance. And god forbid people's precious peace is disturbed for 3 second in order to deal with any emergency but in this case to protect an abducted child. People need to take the silver spoons out of their mouths. And if their kid got abducted they'd be the first calling the police.

You wrote an article with those quotes? You better edit that part out before other people read this. You can't show your ignorance proudly like that...

it was not rene who did not know what the amber alert was, it was the craig hockenberry gentleman and his wife, who had no idea what the amber alert was.

The issue is not whether or not the AMBER system is a good idea--it is. But when the 2:00 AM alert hit Atlanta a few months ago, Twitter lit up with people startled awake and looking for a way to silence the very-loud alert while sleeping. These were people in bed, not people who were near roads and could be looking. By not allowing any options, people had to chose between always-on or always-off and many deactivated the alerts. That's an unintended consequence that needs to be considered--not whether people are evil and entitled, but how to encourage maximum participation and make the system most effective.

bullshit. disabling it for the the whiny people complaining they were asleep doesn't get "more" participation it get's less by definition than sending it to everybody. Nobody's gonna monitor whether people are asleep. and if people simply cut it off or disabled it that's their choice but nobody is gonna monitor every person so it only works when they aren't asleep. What kinda of alert system is that? Sorry they didn't abduct a kid at a convenient time. Sorry people didn't care enough about their fellow man to read a text in the middle of the night. Seriously, if a kid is missing and you're whining cause your sleep was disturbed, screw your sleep. I got no sympathy for you. What you raise isn't an issue. People are free to ignore it. If your kid was abducted you'd be waking up the world.

If Do Not Disturb mode is on, that means I'm asleep. Plain and simple. Give me an alert I will notice when I wake up, but if I'm sleeping there's little chance I will be in a position to notice a missing child. Unless the kidnapper is chasing the kid through my bedroom.

Also there's no reason to be an absolute dick while posting here. Everybody's a big man when sitting at the keyboard...

I disagree. The lack of a volume control pushes people out of the system instead of giving them a way to continue participating. If I have a missing kid, I hope that everyone still has the alert enabled, but I know many people have now deactivated it because they have no control over how it worked on their own phones.
I am confident there are engineers/designers working on how to make the system more effective, and articles like this add to the information they need to do so.

I have the perfect solution to silencing being woken up in the middle of the night...turn your phone off. When you leave it on all night then this is a price you pay for a federally mandated initiative. If you don't know what an AMBER alert is then shame on you and I pray that you never have kids and if you do give them up. You are probably to self absorbed to be a good parent anyway.

This is a ridiculous article to write for somebody that obviously blogs a lot. The furbo site has entries back to 2007 so it's not like he was living under a rock or anything. Either way for him to write a piece like this shows ignorance on his part.

I'm sorry but how ignorant do you have to be to not know what an Amber alert means? I admit the emergency alerts on iOS is pretty intrusive, and I would be seriously pissed if it went off in the middle of the night (I'm sleeping, there's little chance I will notice a missing child; at this point they can still push an alert to my phone and I can see it in the morning, but don't bypass Do Not Disturb). Severe weather warnings would be different, and reason enough to wake you up so you know if a tornado has touched down a few blocks away.

Great solution to this "problem", well said. Figured I'd commend you on it before the clown up there comes huffing & puffing behind a keyboard about what HE thinks we should prioritize in our life.

I think they should tie these in with the GPS (if it's not already) so it can detect movement of the phone. If it's moving the person is mobile whether in a vehicle or walking and can receive the alert. So when you are sleeping and your phone is sitting on your nightstand it will not go off. I think this would also give more reliable alerts if you are in the area. I read people receiving alerts for tornados or flooding 400 miles from them. Just my 2 cents.

if you don't want to be bothered with any alerts on your phone while you sleep then here is a thought turn off your phone!!!!!