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Apple wants its devices to save your life — but it still has work to do

Apple (AAPL) doesn't just want your iPhone or new smartwatch to be cool — it wants the device to have the ability to save your life.

That was the tone at the Sept. 7 "Far Out" event, which the company held at its Cupertino, California headquarters. The event showcased the newest Apple products, which include the iPhone 14new AirPodsand the much-anticipated Apple Watch Ultra.

The presentation, kicked off by CEO Tim Cook, led with the Apple Watch and a kaleidoscope of stories about how Apple says it has saved users' lives. One user described how his watch allowed him to get help in the midst of an industrial accident, while another talked about how the watch detected a heart condition in his friend just in time to get it treated.

If the company led with its supposed life-saving abilities, privacy underpinned the presentation at every turn. Throughout the event, we saw interludes where executives meditated on how important privacy is to Apple, particularly when it comes to data that iPhones and Apple Watches gather on reproductive health in post-Roe America. Arguably, Apple's biggest privacy move so far came last year, when it gave users the opportunity to opt-out of apps tracking their activity.

"Apple gets a lot right when it comes to privacy," said Okta principal architect Vittorio Bertocci.

Still, it seems Apple wants even more credibility. The company has seemingly set out to communicate its higher calling, its desire to be the most trusted, lifeguarding name in Big Tech. But that doesn't mean the path forward is simple. Although Apple's gotten a lot right so far — privacy included, experts say — the company still has a ways to go when it comes to making all its life-saving dreams a reality.

The new Apple Watch Ultra is displayed during a launch event for new products at Apple Park in Cupertino, California, on September 7, 2022. - Apple unveiled several new products including a new iPhone 14 and 14 Pro, three Apple watches, and new AirPod Pros during the event.  (Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small/AFP) (Photo by BRITTANY HOSEA-SMALL/AFP via Getty Images)

The new Apple Watch Ultra is displayed during a launch event for new products at Apple Park in Cupertino, California, on September 7, 2022. - (Photo by Brittany Hosea-Small / AFP) (Photo by BRITTANY HOSEA-SMALL/AFP via Getty images)

Walking the line

Take, for example, the iPhone 14's Emergency SOS feature, which won't be robust for years, said Raymond James analyst Ric Prentiss. The feature, where consumers can send emergency messages via satellite even if they are in a remote area, requires substantial satellite infrastructure that simply isn't yet in place.

"From our standpoint, we expected short, burst-y SOS communications," he told Yahoo Finance. "The new satellite constellation that's going to make this possible won't be fully available until 2025. So, you'll launch the product in the US and Canada, but it won't fully be where you want it to be for a while ."

As Apple looks to make Emergency SOS by satellite a full-fledged reality in the coming years, regulators like the Federal Communications Commission and the International Telecom Union will also have to weigh in, Prentiss added.

In addition to Emergency SOS, Apple is also pitching the Apple Watch's health features as being potentially life-saving. For instance, it is possible to take an electrocardiogram with your Apple Watch, allowing you to check for atrial fibrillation. One 2020 study conducted by Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic suggests that these results are accurate about one-third of the time — although, of course, this feature might have gotten more accurate since that study.

As Apple jostles to boost the life-saving capabilities of its products, there's an area that it's seemed to get right so far — digital safety and privacy. The company has so far avoided inclusion among Big Tech's most scandalous privacy failures and regulators' ire. The same has not been true for some of Big Tech's other top names. Recently, Meta Platforms (HALF) was fined $400 million by Irish regulators for failing to protect children's data on Instagram.

SHANGHAI, CHINA - AUGUST 29, 2022 - An Apple store is seen in Shanghai, China, on Aug 29, 2022. Apple has announced a

SHANGHAI, CHINA - AUGUST 29, 2022 - An Apple store is seen in Shanghai, China, on Aug 29, 2022. Apple has announced a "Far Out" special event on Sept. 8 at 1 am Beijing time. The online launch event is expected to bring new products such as iPhone 14 / Pro Series and Apple Watch Series 8, as well as the launch of the official version of iOS 16. (Photo credit should read CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

The nature of how consumers interact with Apple's products helps the company's privacy efforts, and we should continue to see that — even as the company starts to reach further into our physical lives, according to Vuk Janosevic, CEO of Blindnet, a data privacy software startup .

"It is easy to see this relationship between the product and the user in real time: iPhones regularly ask for consent when collecting and handling sensitive user data," said Janosevic. "They then pass along that decision to the apps running on its system, in order to ensure that a user's decision about their data is consistent across their device."

From here, Apple's walking a tightrope, having to preserve its reputation as Big Tech's leading authority on privacy as it pursues its vision of creating products that know where you are and how you are — so they can, if needed, save your life.

Allie Garfinkle is a Senior Tech Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @agarfinks.

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