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Android phones offered early US quake warning, beating iPhones to the punch

Google's earthquake detection network turns Android phones into seismometers, and it paid off yesterday.

Published onOctober 26, 2022

Google IO 2022 earthquake detection
  • Android phones gave early warnings for an earthquake near San Jose yesterday.
  • This was due to Google offering built-in earthquake detection functionality.
  • The phones also beat iPhones to the punch when it came to early warning alerts.

Android phones have offered built-in earthquake detection functionality since 2020, using your phone’s accelerometer to help create an early warning and detection network for quakes. This functionality was put to the test during a 5.1-magnitude earthquake near San Jose, California yesterday, and it seems to have passed with flying colors.

Dave Burke, Google’s vice-president of engineering for Android, tweeted a neat visualization showing loads of Android phones detecting the quake before the shock waves hit. Check it out below.

Earthquake in SF Bay Area today. Yellow/red represents shaking Android phones acting as seismometers. Circles are our inferred estimate of P & S waves. Earthquake alerts sent instantaneously to surrounding phones before the waves hit
— Dave Burke (@davey_burke) October 26, 2022

This detection capability was also reflected in posts made by social media users, as many people reported receiving earthquake notifications on their Android phones five to 10 seconds before they felt the shock waves. That doesn’t seem like plenty of time, but it does give people a few seconds to take cover.

Interestingly, several Twitter users also noted that they received an early warning on Android but that iPhones only received the alert afterwards.

This wouldn’t be the first time Android’s earthquake detection network gave an early warning. The system was able to deliver early warnings during a quake in the Philippines last year as well. Either way, this latest quake enabled another impressive demonstration of the tech.

Want to enable this on your Android phone? Then you can do so by tapping Settings > Safety & emergency > Earthquake alerts. This isn’t available in every country though, so you might want to check Google’s support page for more info.

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