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Essential

The iPhone is good at many trivial tasks such as playing games and watching videos, but this week I experienced firsthand how much its portability and apps matter when dealing with an emergency situation.

Yesterday, my friends and I went to see Arcade Fire at Rock in Roma, an annual event where artists play in front of a large crowd at the Capannelle Racecourse, which is about 25 minutes away from my house. As soon as we got in my car, I noticed that something was wrong with the battery: the car didn't start immediately and the LPG display wasn't functioning properly. However, I assumed that it was a temporary issue, so I drove (slowly) to the concert area and we enjoyed Arcade Fire for the rest of the evening.

Driving back from the concert, we took the GRA highway and used Google Maps' navigation on my iPhone to follow directions to my house; it was around 1 AM and I was driving at approximately 90 km/h (55 MPH). After a few kilometers on the GRA, the car's dash started beeping, the LPG alarm went off, and the vehicle started “jumping” as if gas wasn't going through correctly with RPM rapidly oscillating between 500 and 4000. I was in the middle lane with other cars on my right and left, three other people were with me in the car, and we started smelling smoke in the vehicle.

We panicked. I felt responsible for the three people with me and the fact that I underestimated my car's problem in the afternoon, and I never had to deal with such a problem on a highway, which was still trafficked at 1 AM because of other cars driving back from the same concert. In a couple of seconds after I smelled smoke, I instinctively turned off the engine, switched to neutral (I drive manual), and reached for the turn signals while approaching the right lane, but they weren't working because the battery was completely dead. Fortunately, there was an exit a few meters ahead and I managed to stop the car there, albeit with no light signals.

Afraid that other cars would take the exit at high velocity without seeing our car “parked” at the side, I immediately grabbed my iPhone to call the police. My hands were shaking, but I placed my thumb on the Touch ID sensor like I do every day without thinking about it and it worked right away. During the call, I switched to Google Maps and gave our precise position to the officer on the line, who told me they'd send a car to signal our problem to incoming cars with their rotating lights and advised me to call another number for a recovery truck. During the call with the recovery truck company, I needed to jot down another phone number so I closed the Phone app, hit the Launch Center Pro icon in my dock, and typed some text to save in Drafts for later. Then, we waited for the truck to arrive with the police car behind us.

On the recovery truck (which only had two passenger seats in the front, so two people had to stay in the car on the truck), I texted my girlfriend with iMessage and switched back and forth with another conversation, also on iMessage. I used a shortcut I have in Launch Center Pro to quickly load directions to my house from my current location and show the truck driver where I wanted the car to be dropped off (near my house, next to an auto repair shop). I needed to pay the driver with cash (€170, about $230), so I also used Google Maps to search for local ATMs (Google's business data is more accurate than Apple's for my area). During our trip on the recovery truck, I switched between apps, launched actions with Launch Center Pro, used Control Center to take photos of what was going on, and the latest version of iOS 7 was always snappy with no crashes or other slowdowns.

I should also mention that I'm lucky there's good 3G coverage in Rome and that I brought an external battery pack with me. I've been using a Proporta external charger since 2011 and it never failed me once, holding 5-6 extra charges that really make a difference if you need a portable device with you all the time. Because we took pictures and recorded videos at the concert, our iPhones would have shut down after a few minutes without the external battery (which can charge multiple iPhones simultaneously) and we wouldn't have been able to call the police and the recovery truck. I don't necessarily need more pixels from my iPhone – I'll always need more battery life.

When I finally got home at 3 AM, I hugged my girlfriend and told her the story of a night that was supposed to end at midnight with a hoarse voice following Arcade Fire's epic Wake Up finale.

A decade ago, with no iPhone, no mobile Internet, and no apps to help me along the way, I would have probably ended up risking my life trying to stop a car on the highway to ask for help at 1 AM. Yesterday, the iPhone allowed me to stay safe, call the police, and give them my exact position in a matter of seconds. The apps that I use every day provided a solution to a real problem that could have turned out much worse. I was constantly connected with other people and information I needed was only a few taps away.

I take technology for granted every day. This stuff is obvious. Yesterday, I realized how much I need the iPhone and why it's more than a phone with apps. It's essential.

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