Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi has started to pre-install an earthquake early warning system on a recent version of an operating system installed on its smartphone and television sets, the company announced on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The Beijing-based company is one of the first handset vendors to provide the potentially life-saving service.

  • The current earthquake early warning system in China depends on public loudspeakers installed on the streets of cities within China’s seismic zones, according to Wang Tun, director of the Institute of Care-life, a Chengdu-based non-governmental organization that provides the earthquake early warning system to Xiaomi.
  • The local government of China’s Sichuan province, a quake-prone province in the southwest, has approved TV and smartphone vendors to provide quake warning services on their devices, but users have to install related apps themselves, Wang told TechNode on Tuesday.

“Earthquakes are small-probability events and people are not willing to install alert apps on their phones when they don’t happen… It is significant that Xiaomi pre-installs the earthquake early warning system on televisions and smartphones, because people will not need to download related apps to be warned of earthquakes” (our translation).

—Wang Tun, to TechNode on Tuesday

Details: The warning system is pre-installed on Xiaomi’s MIUI 11, the company’s user interface (UI) for smartphones and smart TVs based on Google’s Android operating system released on Oct. 22. Devices shipped with the UI installed will receive the alerts, Fan Dian, the general manager of Xiaomi’s Internet of Things (IoT) platform department, said at a tech event in Beijing on Tuesday.

  • Current Xiaomi smartphone users can also activate the function by updating their phones to the latest MIUI, according to Xiaomi.
  • Devices running MIUI 11 have delivered alerts ahead of a 4.1-magnitude earthquake that hit Yibin, Sichuan, on Nov. 10, said Fan.
  • Wang told TechNode that his institute is already in talks with top Chinese smartphone makers, including Oppo and Huawei, to pre-install the system on their phones.
  • He believes that the delivery rate of earthquake alerts in quake-prone areas could reach 80% to 90% of the population once the system is installed on handsets from other top smartphone makers—a huge increase compared with the current rate of around 30%.

Context: In June, a 6.0-magnitude earthquake hit Yibin, killing 13 people and injuring 199.

  • An early warning system was triggered in the city 10 seconds before the earthquake struck.
  • A three-second head start before a tremor hits can prevent 14% of casualties, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.

Writing about semiconductors and telecommunications.

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