On Wednesday, September 7th, Apple rolled out its new iPhone14 models. Most intriguing for hikers, backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes is the ability to send Emergency SOS text messages, even when off grid.
As the company explains on its website, “If you don’t have cell service or Wi-Fi, iPhone lets you text emergency services over satellite.”
This new feature, which will be available in November to customers in the United States and Canada, relies on “Apple-designed components and software” as well as a “compression algorithm that makes text messages three times smaller, speeding up communication.”
“On the ground, we route your text message through a complex infrastructure to emergency service providers. Only some accept texts. For those that don’t, we’ve set up emergency relay centers with Apple‑trained specialists who call for help on your behalf.”Also coming soon is the ability to let friends and family “know how remote you go.” If you’re on an adventure without cell service, you’ll be able to share your location via satellite so loved ones know where you are.
For a detailed look at the iPhone14's new feature's check out this excellent Washington Post article.
Apple’s announcement comes on the heels of a similar collaboration between T-Mobile and SpaceX “to bring cell phone connectivity everywhere.”
“From the middle of Death Valley to the Great Smoky Mountains or even that persistent neighborhood dead zone, T-Mobile and SpaceX have a vision to give customers a crucial additional layer of connectivity in areas previously unreachable by cell signals from any provider,” the companies said in an August 25th press release.
Employing SpaceX’s Starlink satellites and using T-Mobile’s network, “This true satellite-to-cellular service will provide nearly complete coverage almost anywhere a customer can see the sky.”
While the vision is grand, the on-the-ground reality will take some time. The Washington Post quotes a company representative who says “beta testing” of text messaging services will begin “as soon as late next year.” The plan is to begin with texting before adding voice and data.
That same Washington Post article also notes that the idea of using satellites to keep our phones connected “isn’t unique” — with at least two other US-based companies actively testing and building technology to deliver this service.
The Long and Short
These technological developments have huge potential for outdoor enthusiasts, and may even be imminent. And ... if you want to be able to communicate with loved ones via satellite here in 2022, hang on to that Garmin inReach or Zoleo, at least a little longer.