The explosion of smartphone use has provided us with many conveniences. However, with the positives of new technology also come a few drawbacks that users of mobile technology should be aware of.
If you are an avid mobile user, it is likely you are well aware of the different hazards involved with using mobile devices. They can get lost or stolen, data can be breached, viruses and malware can pose a threat, as well as many other dangers.
But what about pocket dialing? This is a hazard that poses dangers and embarrassments on smartphone devices. It happens by mistake and often as the result of smartphone designs that may not have been carefully thought through prior to production, failures on the part of the device owner to set configurations, and many other factors.
In this article, we will define what pocket dialing is, the hazards and problems it can create, and how to protect yourself from it happening to you.
Pocket Dialing Defined
Depending upon the type of smartphone you have, many times the interface is exposed with no protection over the number dial or speed dialing features you use when making phone calls. This means that when you place your smartphone in your pocket, bag, or purse, any little bump or knock can cause it to do things you prefer it not to do.
One of the problems that can occur is known as pocket dialing which is defined as inadvertent phone call placement while your smartphone is tucked inside your pocket or bag. When the call is placed, the recipient typically hears a period of background sounds when they answer the phone.
After saying hello a few times, they can listen in on what is happening in the vicinity of the caller. This can continue for quite some time before either the user or the smartphone system ends the call. This can cause quite a bit of embarrassment and even a potential hazard if the recipient of the call hears a conversation they are not supposed to hear or sounds from an event in your immediate vicinity.
Pocket dialing often occurs when the phone’s dialing buttons are activated via movement in your pocket or bag. It is often the result of someone being called in your contact list since phone numbers can be dialed from this list with one touch of a button.
Although pocket dialing is primarily frustrating or embarrassing, the notion of pocket dialing can also pose hazards, such as when 911 emergency numbers are inadvertently dialed. Since you are unaware that your phone dialed 911, more often than not, the emergency dispatcher service will send help to ensure the emergency is not real.
Because of touch interfaces, pocket dialing has become a growing problem. Some of the newer smartphones that are equipped with capacitive touchscreens have helped to reduce the problem, since a touchscreen will not respond to external materials that are non-conductive.
The newer smartphones also contain automatic locks and specialized software that locks the screen after a specific period of inactivity has occurred. Nevertheless, pocket dialing is still a problem.
Main Causes of Pocket Dialing
Both older and modern mobile cell phones are offered in several different configurations. First, you have the older ones that contain flip phone functionality. When you close the phone, the keys are protected against inadvertent pocket dialing.
Phones that offer touchscreen functionality operate through a tap of your finger or via a stylus pen. This type of phone typically does not react to bumps and knocks in your pocket or bag.
Then there are the phones that are completely exposed where the buttons can easily be activated. This type of phone represents the primary cause of pocket dialing. In this case, the buttons are activated by other objects in your bag or pocket. The calls that are placed are typically a recently dialed number or contacts that are located at the beginning or the bottom of your contact list.
Many cell phones are equipped with a keypad lock feature that is designed to prevent pocket dialing. However, as a result of human error, the lock can be left inactive if you forget to activate it when the phone is not in use. Additionally, many cell phones are designed to allow you to dial an emergency number, even when the key lock mechanism has been activated.
Other causes of pocket dialing are related to the phone’s technology itself. Here are a few examples:
Google’s Ambient Display
Google has recently introduced the Ambient Display on its Nexus devices which is a feature that mimics the Moto Display on Motorola devices. The Ambient Display technology is designed to automatically power on the display whenever you receive pick up your phone or receive a notification. The purpose of the technology is to provide convenience without having to press any buttons to activate the display.
Although Ambient Display technology adds convenience, the drawback is the display easily lights up as soon as there is any movement or an object in your bag touches the device. If you are not using a PIN code or lock on the screen, the display will automatically show recent notifications which could include a recent phone call. This causes the device to pocket dial people while it is inside your pocket or bag.
The solution is to create a PIN (Personal Identification Number) for your device. Or, if your device is equipped, create a touch pattern that locks the phone screen until you are ready to use it again. More on this later.
Blackberry’s Gesture Swipe
The new Blackberry Z10 and Q10 devices are designed with a gesture swipe feature that allows you to simply swipe your finger across the screen to wake the device out of sleep mode. Many die-hard Blackberry fans use these devices which make them a major culprit for pocket dialing. The gesture swipe feature has also been known to inadvertently upload your photos to Facebook.
The Z10 and Q10 gesture swipe feature has been known to capture video recordings and send pocket emails as well. If you disable this feature, the phone can still make emergency calls to 911 without your authorization.
Hazards of Pocket Dialing
The main hazard of pocket dialing is 911 emergency calls that are not real and have no one on the other end when the dispatcher responds to the call. This can present a potential danger to your life, as well as the lives of others since 911 is receiving tons of calls that are the result of pocket dialing. This results in a lot of false flags which compromise the emergency response system.
When it comes to emergencies, here are a few short videos that will make you think twice before you place your cell phone in your pocket or bag.
In another scenario, here is where an inadvertent 911 call can be beneficial.
Accidental Phone Calls
If you are like many users, you probably have a series of phone numbers set on speed dial. Any type of movement in your pocket or bag can cause you to accidentally dial a speed dial number. If the number happens to be long distance and remains connected, you could be in for a surprise when you receive your phone bill. Additionally, the call recipient may overhear a conversation they are not privy to.
Also, many cell phone users place 911 on speed dial. If your phone keeps inadvertently calling the number when there is no emergency, this can get you into a heap of trouble with law enforcement.
By placing your cell phone in your pocket or bag, you expose it to damage by objects that cannot only pocket dial, they can also do irreparable damage to your phone. If the device is placed in your back pocket, this is worse since it increases the chances of pocket dialing and opens up your device to cracking or bending.
If you have a sliding phone, placing it in your pocket can accidentally open it and expose it to pocket dialing. You also risk breaking the phone into several pieces. If you forget to remove it from your pocket, you will likely find yourself fishing it out of the washing machine and then purchasing another device.
If your phone pocket dialed one of your contacts before you shut it off, the contact may call you back to see what you wanted. If you are driving your car, this increases the likelihood of having a car accident.
Plus, if you are carrying your phone in your pocket or bag, fumbling around for it while you are driving can put you and others at risk. If you happen to find it and then drop it, taking your eyes off the road to locate it may prove to be even worse than pocket dialing.
How to Avoid Pocket Dialing
If your phone is assuming a mind of its own when you are storing it in your pocket or bag, there are a few steps you can take to reduce the chances of pocket dialing.
If you are using an Android cell phone:
- Install an App: There are apps in the Google Play store that are designed to confirm phone calls before you place them. This type of app is to be used in conjunction with contacts that you consciously select from the list and call. You will find a wide variety of apps that will confirm your calls before you place them.
- Remove Shortcuts on the Home Screen: Many Android users place some of their contacts on direct dial on the home screen. This opens up your phone to pocket dialing. Instead, remove the direct dial numbers from the home screen and place them on an alternative screen. This way all you need to do is swipe to the screen and direct dial the number.
- Activate the Screen Lock: Although you may find it inconvenient, activate the screen lock feature. This prevents pocket dialing and it secures your phone from unauthorized access since it is protected by a password, PIN, or specific touch pattern.
- Lock the Phone with the Power Button: Before you place your iPhone in your pocket or bag, use the Power button to lock your phone. This will prevent your phone from pocket dialing the last number you called before you placed your phone in your pocket or bag. It will also prevent the phone from doing anything else you do not want it to do as well.
- Use the Passcode Lock: Activate the passcode lock feature on your iPhone. This requires you to enter a four digit PIN in order to unlock the phone and it will prevent your phone from randomly placing pocket dialed calls. To do this, go to Settings and tap on General. Choose the Passcode Lock feature and then enter a four digit PIN when prompted. Also, set a time frame for when the Passcode Lock should be activated following a period of inactivity.
- Tap the Voicemail Icon: Tap the voicemail icon to prevent your phone from pocket dialing. This way your phone cannot access anything else to place calls. Although it is possible for your objects to modify this feature, it will help to reduce the number of pocket dialed numbers and save you frustration and potential embarrassment as well.
As an added piece of knowledge and fuel for thought in phone and app design, Xiamoni phones are designed with a pocket dialing protection option. The technology automatically senses when your phone is placed in your pocket or bag. When the lock is pushed, the phone temporarily locks the display to prevent the device from calling a phone number.
There is an Android app that comes close to the Xiamoni protection option. The app is known as Battery Keyguard and is expected to be available shortly through the XDA Developers forum. It is designed to prevent your phone from inadvertently texting and pocket dialing your contacts.
The Battery Keyguard app contains programming code that enables the proximity sensor each time the display is turned on. The sensor is only temporarily enabled for one second to prevent your phone from texting or pocket dialing. If the sensor is activated, the display screen is turned off and when the sensor is not covered at any specific moment, no activity will occur.
The Bottom Line
Although pocket dialing may appear to be a trivial worry, it is becoming a growing problem especially in the area of emergencies. After all, when and how are emergency services supposed to know when an emergency situation is real? This is why it is up to smartphone users to take responsibility and use precautions to protect your phone from pocket dialing.
By disabling pocket dialing, you are protecting yourself and your privacy, as well as the safety and well-being of others. You may find the minor inconvenience may be well worth it when a life is saved or you are spared from a major problem or embarrassment.