The Japanese version of iOS 5, Apple's latest mobile OS, will let you know if an earthquake is coming a good minute or two before it hits.
Such functionality is common in natively produced handsets, but imported brands have been slow to integrate the warnings which use a standardised tone and go off even if the phone has been set to silent (there are some things worth interrupting any meeting for). With its latest OS, Apple has now integrated the service, as spotted by 9to5Mac.
Not that users get much of a warning, as Time reported when looking at how the early-warning system operates. The service isn't based on predictions but rather on early signs that an earthquake has already happened. Smaller vibrations travel faster than the building-toppling shocks of the quake itself, so depending on your distance from the epicentre, you might get 90 seconds or a couple of minutes' warning.
That's long enough to pull a car over to the side of the road, or step back from the open heart surgery you're performing, or hide under the desk (which is the recommended behaviour for most people).
There have been apps linked to the service before, but with iOS 5 it is integrated into the iPhone's Notification control panel. The new OS sports a brand new notification centre – from where the user can define what's important to them – and in the Japanese version that includes local earthquakes.
The new OS is expected to power the next iPhone, and to be launched in the next few months. It was announced in June, but various features have emerged in the developer releases as the product gets finalised ahead of the launch. ®