Apple is adding a limited form of satellite connectivity to new iPhones that lets users send an SOS even when they’re off the grid, no dish required. While it won’t allow ordinary data, voice, or text, it will alert emergency services with your circumstances and location.
In case of an injury in the backcountry or some such situation, users can activate the emergency SOS feature if they have an iPhone 14 or 14 Pro, which have an updated wireless chipset that allows it.
The new feature is different from the satellite-based data and text connectivity incoming from Lynk and, assuming they can get it to work, T-Mobile and Starlink. Those are essentially orbital cell towers that are strong enough to reach and receive signal from the surface, while Apple is reportedly partnering with Globalstar, which is a traditional satellite connectivity operator that operates using bands that normally require a special antenna.
Because of this, users will need to actually point their phone at the satellite, which obviously is too small to see — so Apple made a little orientation app that helps you point it in the right direction. But bandwidth is incredibly limited, so once you’re locked in you choose between a few preset messages: what’s the emergency, is anyone hurt, etc. These minimize the data involved and so will take less time to send; your battery level, location, medical information will automatically be sent as well.
(Looks like regular messaging isn’t possible, but we’ll double check the capabilities when more information is made available.)
At best the process should take about 15 seconds, but if there’s any tree cover or the alignment isn’t good, expect it to take a few minutes. And no one will be getting back to you immediately — it’s a one-way conversation. Your SOS will be relayed to a ground station, and from there to emergency services.
The service, first available in the U.S. and Canada starting in November, will be free for two years, Apple said, though it did not get into what it might cost after that period. By that point Lynk and Starlink will likely have their services up and running, and the former at least aims to provide emergency text and SOS capability for free across the globe.