It takes just five quick taps of the power button to enable the mode, which lets users bypass Touch ID and immediately call emergency services. The action doesn’t dial 911 itself unless you enable an “auto call” feature, but it does send iPhone owners to a screen where they can call by swiping an SOS button without ever having to log in.
Earlier versions of the operating system required users to either permanently turn Touch ID off in their settings or restart their iPhone for the device to require passcode login. The new SOS mode should be a faster and more predictable way to immediately reach emergency services.
iOS 11 is a game-changer for Touch ID. Press power button rapidly 5 times and it opens the 2nd screen, but it also forces passphrase entry! pic.twitter.com/uvWbM04lyk— Miss Distance (Kia☆) (@alt_kia) August 17, 2017
The setting, discovered by Twitter users @alt_kia, also sends a text message to all contacts you add to your “in case of emergency” list from Apple’s built-in Health app. This will let them know you called for help and give them your current location, similar to Google’s Trusted Contacts.
Another contrasting use for locking out your Touch ID sensor is to prevent authorities from gaining access to your device. The fingerprint sensor has been used by cops in multiple states to circumvent privacy laws. In Virginia, a court judge ruled that cops can force people to give up their fingerprint to unlock their device, but not a passcode. In Michigan, police created a 3D printer that can unlock a murder victim’s phone by reproducing their fingerprint. With SOS mode, five discreet taps quickly locks cops out of your device by forcing a passcode entry.
Apple is expected to release the iPhone 8 next month, which we’re fairly certain will come with facial recognition for login authentication. It will undoubtedly become another point of contention among law enforcement officials wanting to access data from someone’s smartphone.
If you’d like to try iOS 11 now, you can test out the public beta. Otherwise, expect to see an update notification sometime next month.