You know what's missing from my mobile phone? A panic button

You know what's missing from my mobile phone? A panic button

Summary: As I pondered weak and weary, over many a quaint cell phone or two, I realized that there's something missing: a panic button. And then I asked the most dangerous question of all: Why?


Yesterday during lunch, my youngest son* (The Ginger Avenger), and I sat munching away at our newly purchased Whataburgers, watching some dude named Bear Grylls try to teach people how to deal with physical attacks, when I had a brainstorm.

I told Walker that, back in the old days before the ever-present annoyance of cell phones in everyone's paws, these types of scenarios were far more prevalent. These days everyone has a cell phone and there's always someone around videoing** whatever's going on around him. I told him too that though people who use cell phones continuously, without looking up, annoy the <explitive deleted> out of me, they do have their advantages.

One advantage is that now you can keep track of friends and family at amusement parks. You don't know how many hours I have spent wandering around Six Flags Over Texas or the State Fair of Texas looking for people. I remember wishing way back then that we had those Star Trek communicators so we could talk to each other or have the Enterprise locate one another for us.

And then it dawned on me that what we need on our cell phones is a panic button. It's the most obvious thing in the world, yet it's conspicuously missing. Isn't that strange? Surely I'm not the first person to ever think of this. Or am I?

My son and I both laughed because it is a great idea. Plus, I knew what the topic of my next ZDNet was going to be: the missing panic button.

Why don't cell phones have panic buttons?

It could be as simple as an extra button on the phone that when pressed and held it dials 911, 999, or 0118 999 881 999 119 725 3 to alert emergency services that you're in some sort of trouble. Your GPS coordinates would tell emergency responders your approximate location. 

No, don't say that there's an app for that. An app is no better than opening your phone and dialing emergency services. And in some cases, you don't want to risk talking to someone who'll probably say, "Please speak up, I can barely hear you", when you obviously need to be silent. Maybe I've watched too many horror movies but I think you get the point.

And the marketing sweep for the new panic button could be cool too, with someone like, "Be bold. Press and hold."

Yes, I really do sit around thinking about these kinds of things. Someone has to.

But what's more intriguing than thinking about a panic button and associated advertising jingles is to ponder who'll bring it to market first. If there were ten phones available and only one out of the ten had the panic button, I know that a lot of people (almost everyone) would buy the panic button equipped one. It's a reasonable choice. It's one I'd make for sure.

Additionally, I'd be willing to pay a few dollars extra per month for the service. That's how much I think we need the capability. And I think that the 'press and hold' button is a good idea because you couldn't accidentally press and hold it plus it's human nature to want to grip something during emergencies. So, ergonomically speaking, it's a great idea. But the design of the physical button needs to be something that feels different and looks different than other phone buttons, so I'm kind of leaning toward an "outie" version of the iPhone Home button.

There's no other button on any phone like that. It also needs to be of sufficient size, like the Home button, to be easy to find by touch or by sight.

The only problem I can see with the idea of the panic button is how I can make money from coming up with the idea. I guess I don't have to make money off of every idea I have but just a little bump from one of them would make me happy. I'm not greedy.

So I'll leave you with this final thought on the subject: Don't panic, but when you panic, hit the panic button on your cell phone—should one ever exist.

What do you think of my idea for a panic button? Do you want one? Would you buy a phone with a panic button or opt for one without, even if the prices are the same? Talk back and tell me your thoughts.

*He was home from school because of Fall Break not hooky.

**Videoing, that is, instead of helping the victim. I guess that YouTube viral fame is more important than another person's well-being.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Apple, Microsoft, Security


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • Not a good idea

    The last thing a parent want is a panic button on their phone, because the kids will pressing it all the time. It will be a real nightmare for the emergency services.
    • There is already smarter solutions out there.

      Samsung has a built in Emergency Contact feature, which will call a designated contact(s) (you can set up 4 contacts) if you hold down both volume buttons. No false positives at 911, but you still have an easy way to make an emergency call if your in distress.
  • Just like the panic button on my keyfob?

    I don't think so.
    Mike Marquis
  • You don't really believe this do you?

    Not only would the false positives be there in ridiculous amounts, some phones already do this. My Samsung note 3 has an emergency dialer "button" on the lock screen. It's just as fast to do that, go to the phone, and press your 911 quick dial as what you are talking about.

    This is not a good idea, and almost no one would choose, all else being equal, the phone with the panic button. And NO ONE would choose it if the service cost extra per month.
  • James Bond has "panic buttons" on his gadgets.

    But when the bad guys press it, things go "boom" rather quickly.

    In like manner, if there were panic buttons on cell phones, just one inadvertent usage among 100,000 button presses would make the emergency response nationwide apparatus go "boom" rather quickly.

    In theory perhaps a dedicated panic button has merit but if put into practice, perhaps that merit would quickly get overshadowed by obvious disadvantages.

    Sorry, Ken. You don't get rich from this idea. Besides, Apple has already patented this idea. Grin.
  • You want a button, here it is!
    • My first thought

      You beat me to the punch, but this was the first thing I thought of. Only those people who want a panic button can get one of the Pressy buttons. And it can be used on any Android phone. I already have one pre-ordered.
  • @LibertyGuy62

    That's just plain silly. But you can't argue with their results. $695,000 pledged on a $40,000 campaign. I should do as well.
    • Hybrid this thing, Ken

      Make it a virtual button that's always in the same place on every screen, but ALSO has a virtual slide cover to prevent accidental dials. Super-critical or potentially dangerous physical switches in aircraft cockpits often have physical metal or clear acrylic covers to prevent accidental activations.
      Paul B. Wordman
  • google it....

    There are phones out there with panic buttons on them... but they aren't pretty, and they aren't android or apple phones.
  • panic button

    ...Hello, 911 Emergency Operator you've been butt dialed ...
  • Just a thought....

    "...that when pressed and held it dials 911, 999, or 0118 999 881 999 119 725 3 to alert emergency services that..."

    Parents could be able to configure a kids phone that it dials them, not 911, first, then the option would be available to 'flip' the call to 911. And, make it a slide-and-hold, much less chance to have it butt-dial.
  • My old Nokia dumb phone had that

    Along with quite a few others. You hold down a designated key (9 as I recall on my phone, on others the key was often red) and it dialed 911. I guess the feature was never particularly in demand, otherwise it would not have disappeared. Looks like you're in the minority on this one.
  • WOW

    UHM....Is this writer high or just retarded???go to an emergency call center and see how many calls they receive which turn out to be nothing because people like YOU are retarded.....that button is going to solely be the cause of the world becoming even more pathetic than it is, dude quit your day job please?This article must seriously be a joke.....You're watch too much TV.
  • Panic button

    Why not?
    Tap the button, turn off the phone, move, tap the button, turn off the phone, move, etc. Good idea, but bad result.
  • no like

    no buy.
    Nothing wrong with thinking about it, but I think the app / lock screen thing is the right approach to this, if one is desired.
  • No more keeping the phone in your pocket

    I had a phone with push-to-talk, and pressing and holding either volume button would cycle it through hands-free, vibrate-only, normal use, and something else I've forgotten and never fully appreciated. Helpfully, it would ding or vibrate every time one of the buttons was pressed. Squatting down to pet a dog or pick up a pen, sitting down in a car, leaning forward in a chair, and all sorts of other movements could have that thing dinging away like a car with the keys left in the ignition.

    Useful in concept, but I think this needs a bit more thinking through.

    On my current Droid RAZR, it's easy to get to 911 from the lock screen: power on the screen, touch the phone at the bottom-left corner. Emergency contacts are available at the bottom-right corner.

    Of course, if the phone is unlocked, it's not as straightforward; I'll grant you that. Still, while I've done my fair share of butt-dialing, I've never annoyed a 911 operator yet.

    -- Tim
  • Autodialed 911 once. That was enough

    I thought that having 911 on my speed dial would be a good idea. Within a day I had accidently autodialed it and as soon as I hung up with the nice lady, I took it right off.
  • oh I don't know...

    ... a hotline to the NRA for tea party dudes at Texas gun shows to call in the local wingnut militia... what could possibly go wrong with that scenario?
  • Motorola

    Motorola owns(ed) the patent for panic button on a mobile phone. The other problem is 911 is not currently able to locate using GPS at this time, I believe they are upgrading the entire system to enable taking advantage of today's technology. Current apps claiming to send location and/or text to 911 do not work because 911 cannot receive such data, after the upgrade, you will be able to send location, text, picture, video to 911 and they will be able to receive it.