Apple is rolling out the ability to send messages via satellite, designed to work in emergencies when iPhone users don’t have signal, in several more countries after launching in the US.
As of Tuesday, the satellite emergency call will also be available in France, Germany, the UK and Ireland, Apple says, allowing anyone there with an iPhone 14 to point their phone towards a satellite and send an emergency message even without wi-fi or network coverage.
The feature is ground-breaking for smartphones, as until now, you needed a special phone with a larger antenna for this to work.
The service is initially free to use for two years from the time a new iPhone 14 is activated. For all those who already have an iPhone 14, the free period begins with the availability in their country. Apple has not yet commented on the pricing model after the two years.
To make this feature possible, Apple has integrated an in-house system for connecting to satellites into the iPhone 14 Pro models.
However, the connection remains a technical challenge, and for the feature to work, the iPhone must be pointed directly at the satellite, and the transmission can take several minutes.
Since the satellites are not visible to the naked eye, users get help aligning the devices with a graphic on their screen.
The satellite service is available on all iPhone 14 models with iOS 16.1 or higher and can be used whenever no other network is available.
The SOS feature is only the latest in which Apple has been marketing how its devices can save lives. Both the Apple Watch 8 and the new iPhones can detect serious car accidents and automatically alert emergency services thanks to new acceleration sensors.
The built-in barometer also detects changes in the vehicle’s interior pressure when an airbag is triggered and the phone analyses the soundscape captured by microphone.
The Apple Watch already has fall detection, which alerts an emergency contact if it detects a sudden fall followed by no movement, and heart rhythm monitoring for cardiac disorders.
For the emergency SMS via satellite to work, users must first answer a few questions. The transmitted message then contains the answers to these questions, as well as the location, including altitude, the battery status of the iPhone and Emergency Passport information, if activated.
The conversation and follow-up messages are relayed via satellite to operator centres staffed by Apple-trained professionals. These can call for help on behalf of the user.
The transcript can also be forwarded to emergency contacts to keep them informed, and the technology also allows users travelling outside of the cellular network to communicate their location to friends or family without an emergency. (dpa)