Apple has been working on satellite technology for years, with a team exploring the concept since at least 2017. However, the feature is unlikely to be ready before next year.
an Francisco: Apple Inc.’s push to bring satellite capabilities to the iPhone will be focused on emergency situations, allowing users to send texts to first responders and report crashes in areas without cellular coverage.
The company is developing at least two related emergency features that will rely on satellite networks, aiming to release them in future iPhones, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
Apple has been working on satellite technology for years, with a team exploring the concept since at least 2017, Bloomberg has reported. Speculation that the next iPhone will have satellite capabilities ramped up this week after TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said the phone will probably work with spectrum owned by Globalstar Inc.
That’s led to conjecture that the iPhone will become something akin to a satellite phone, freeing users from having to rely on cell networks. But Apple’s plan is initially more limited in scope, according to the person, with the focus on helping customers handle crisis scenarios.
The first component, dubbed Emergency Message via Satellite, will let users text emergency services and contacts over a satellite network when there’s no cell signal available. That feature will be integrated into the Messages app as a third protocol — alongside the standard SMS and iMessage — and appear with gray message bubbles instead of green or blue. The second feature will be a tool to report major emergencies, such as plane crashes and sinking ships, also using satellite networks.
The texting-via-satellite tool, codenamed Stewie inside Apple, will restrict messages to a shorter length. The texts will automatically push through to an emergency contact’s phone, even if the do-not-disturb setting is on. One planned design will let a user send the message by typing “Emergency SOS” where they would usually input a contact name. In addition to delivering texts, the service may eventually be able to handle some phone calls too.
It’s unclear which emergency services or providers the system would tap into. The set of features would compete with the Garmin inReach device, which lets users send short messages or an SOS over satellite networks.
Both features are, of course, dependent on satellite availability and local regulations. They’re not designed to work in every country, and Apple has created a mechanism that will ask users to be outdoors and walk in a certain direction to help the iPhone connect to a satellite. Linking to a network also won’t always be instantaneous, with testing of the feature indicating that it could sometimes take up to one minute to work.
To connect to satellites, Apple will need a special chip. While the company is developing its own custom cellular modems for use in the coming years, it still plans to rely on a Qualcomm Inc. modem in the near term.
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