The iPhone 13's Satellite Text Messages Could Be a Lifesaver–Literally

Get out of a tight spot, no matter where you are

Key Takeaways

  • The next iPhone may have satellite-powered emergency features.
  • Send emergency messages, location, and even your medical ID.
  • It might work anywhere, which would ruin horror movie plots.
Someone in a snow covered mountain area using a satellite phone.

Dmitriy Suponnikov / Unsplash

The next iPhone may keep you safe in the wilderness and ruin horror-movie plots.

Apple is adding two satellite-based safety features to future iPhones, according to inside info published by Bloomberg. One is for reporting emergencies, kind of like a more-focused 911 call, only without the voice part. The other will let iPhone users send an emergency SMS to a pre-selected contact. Because this is via satellite, it can work anywhere on the planet, not just in populated areas with cell coverage. 

"This will be ideal for regions where there is no signal, such as the wilderness and other remote, isolated locales. Knowing that help is only a phone call away can make you feel a lot safer," James Leversha, the director of IT supports and website development company Top Notch I.T, told Lifewire via email.

"Aside from that, the feature would allow first responders to be contacted in locations with poor coverage. When there is no signal, users will be able to text emergency agencies and emergency contacts via satellite."

Emergency

The new feature will be called Emergency Message via Satellite, and it will work inside the existing Messages app. Messages will be restricted in length and appear in gray message bubbles, not blue or green.

"When there is no signal, users will be able to text emergency agencies and emergency contacts via satellite."

The idea is that you could designate an emergency contact, and if you get into trouble, you can text them. The beauty of this system is that it doesn’t require any network connection to work. So you can be in the wilderness or out on the ocean, away from all Wi-Fi and cellular networks, and still send a message.

The message would be delivered even if the recipient’s phone was set to Do Not Disturb mode.

The second feature lets you report an emergency to the proper authorities. In this case, the message also can include your location and deliver your Medical ID if you have it set up on your own iPhone.

Privacy

Unlike GPS, which is a one-way communication from satellite to the phone or other device, Emergency Message via Satellite would have to establish a data connection with an overhead satellite. GPS works like a lighthouse—GPS satellites continually ping out radio signals, which your device can detect.

A view looking down on a satellite flying above Eart.

SpaceX / Unsplash

Using the unique signals from several satellites, it triangulates your position. No connection of any kind is ever established (which is why the "GPS" tracking done by TV cops is often impossible—a GPS satellite cannot track you).

Emergency Message via Satellite, on the other hand, is specifically designed to relay data and reveal your position. This makes it impossible to "go off the grid," which can be good and bad.

We assume that no connection will be established until you, the user, needs to send an emergency message. A constant connection like we use with 4G and 5G would be impractical over such low-bandwidth networks. 

What Is It Good for?

The most obvious use-case is for folks who are adventuring, either on water or in remote locations with no regular phone coverage like mountains or wilderness. One might also assume these outdoorsy folks would be savvy enough to use this emergency feature when it eventually becomes available. 

"Emergency Satellite calls would be a big positive for my business," backpacking and fitness adventure organizer Steve Silberberg told Lifewire via email. "We take people on wilderness backpacking trips where there is no signal, so the ability to place an emergency call would be extremely helpful."

"This will be ideal for regions where there is no signal, such as the wilderness and other remote, isolated locales."

But really, anyone can find themselves stuck without any way to contact people in an emergency. It could be as simple as a flat tire on a remote desert road or as baroque as a remote cabin deep in the woods, where an unknown, possibly supernatural, entity leaves oddly familiar effigies fashioned from twigs and bird skeletons, outside on the porch every night. 

If you want something like this right now, you can try Garmin’s inReach, which combines GPS navigation with two-way texting and SOS over the Iridium satellite network. For that, you’ll need a monthly subscription plan. 

We have come to rely completely on our ubiquitous internet connections, to the extent that we often wish they were cut off. That’s one of the reasons for going “off-grid” on an adventuring vacation.

But getting out of trouble, especially in this limited way, doesn’t compromise that feeling of peaceful disconnection. In fact, knowing there’s an emergency plan B might help you relax and unwind even more, at least until that ghost witch starts hanging around outside your tent.

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