Why Resetting Your iPhone Could Dial Emergency Services (and How to Avoid It)

Why Resetting Your iPhone Could Dial Emergency Services (and How to Avoid It)
Photo: Simon Vayro, Shutterstock

Smartphones are just tiny computers, and every now and then, all computers will decide to stop working. Your device will freeze up and become unresponsive, instantly turning into a $1,000+ paperweight. It’s times like these when a forced reset comes in handy — a simple combination of button presses that will hopefully get things moving again. However, if you have an iPhone,  you might end up calling the cops instead of fixing your problem.

Maybe this has happened to you: You look up a guide on force resetting your device, follow the instructions to the best of your abilities, only to watch helplessly as your frozen iPhone dials emergency services. Um, what gives?

It all has to do with Emergency SOS, and how frustratingly easy it is to accidentally trigger. Emergency SOS is a shortcut for contacting emergency services in a pinch, when you don’t have the time or ability to access the phone app and dial emergency services. Obviously, you want such a feature to be easy to use in the event of an actual emergency. The problem, however, is that one of the Emergency SOS triggers is a bit too close to the force reset procedure for most iPhones.

One way to activate Emergency SOS is to hold the volume-up button and Side button together: after a couple of seconds, you’ll see a power menu screen, with an Emergency SOS slider among the options. However, if you keep those buttons held down, you’ll trigger Emergency SOS then and there.

Meanwhile, for every iPhone since the 8 (including all Face ID iPhones), you perform a force reset like so:

  • Quickly press and release the volume up button.
  • Quickly press and release the volume down button.
  • Hold the Side button. The screen will eventually go black. Only release the button when the Apple logo appears.

That seems simple enough, except there are a couple of issues. The first is making sure you’ve found the instructions for your particular iPhone. It’s easy, to look up iPhone force reset instructions, only to read the procedure for an iPhone 7, rather than your newer iPhone. That phone requires you to hold the volume up button and the Side button until you see the Apple logo — the exact button combination that leads to an emergency call. Yikes.

Even if you found the right instructions, you might not follow them to a T. You might end up forgetting to let go of the volume button when moving on to the Side button, and, since your iPhone is frozen, you might not even see the Emergency SOS option appear until it’s too late.

Now, treat this article as a PSA: the next time your iPhone is acting up, look up the instructions for your particular model. Once you have those up, make sure you follow the instructions perfectly. Don’t hold a button if the instructions say let go, and don’t let go of a button until the instructions explicitly tell you to.

Aeroplane mode rules out an emergency call

If you feel like Emergency SOS is a ticking time bomb for you when resetting your iPhone, try turning on Aeroplane mode before doing so. If your phone is in a bad place, that might not be possible. However, sometimes a bugged-out iPhone will still give you access to Control Centre. Tap that Aeroplane mode icon, and perform a hard reset with peace of mind.

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