My iPhone saved my life. Really.

Last night I awoke, to find out to my surprise, I had died. Well, not really — but what a great opening sentence! What did happen was, in a crowded room celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of a close friend's son, I fainted. A minute later there was someone giving me CPR, another oxygen. Some bystanders said I stopped breathing, another said I had no pulse. So technically perhaps I was dead. No matter.

Dead like Mike

In the confusion, someone asked if they had my medical history, medications etc. My amazing wife pulled out my iPhone from my jacket, went to the emergency screen, and pulled up my Medical ID. There it was, any information an EMT or doctor. could want in an emergency setting.

I really was OK, just tired and, and dehydrated, but chatting with the EMT folks on the ambulance ride they thought that was an amazing feature. One said his phone didn't do that. (I'm on my way to the hospital, in an ambulance, and these folks are having a smartphone debate...)

Anyhow, great story right? There's just a little detail I left out. It just so happened that the day before, I had shown my wife how to access my medical information without the need to unlock my phone.

If I hadn't given her that little lesson, the EMTs, assorted doctors (and one guy named Irving Doktor who leaped to the scene) would have had all my medical info, literally at their fingertips, and not even know it was there.

If nobody knows about a feature, does it really exist?

iOS is amazing. But this amazing, potentially lifesaving feature is totally not discoverable. Every person I asked in the last day could not find the hidden information while we played "let's pretend Michael is having a stroke". In short, I'd have been dead long before anyone could figure it out. Not one person thought pressing the emergency button on a dialer screen would bring up a Medical ID. Not one.

As iOS has become more feature laden, it's also become much more complex. While adding functionality and keeping the interface simple, Apple has made it hard for users to discover the wonderful features inside. It's one thing if you don't realize turning your phone landscape in messaging lets you send "ink". It's quite another when a fantastic, literally lifesaving feature is built in, and no one either knows about or even if they knew it existed, they couldn't find it.

I'm not going to tell Apple how to best implement Medical ID. I am going to say in its current form, unless you give friends and, loved ones a course in how to use it, it might as well not exist.

And absent knowledge of those amazing features, the iPhone loses a lot of its potential value.

Michael Gartenberg

I’ve covered the personal technology beat for more than two decades at places like Gartner, Jupiter Research and Altimeter Group. I’ve also had the fun of contributing my $.02 on the topic at Computerworld, Engadget, Macworld, SlashGear and now iMore. Most recently I spent a few years at Apple as Sr. Director of Worldwide Product Marketing. On Twitter I’m an unverified @gartenberg. I still own some Apple stock.