The iPhone's Satellite Rescue Feature Is a Game Changer—Here's Why

Keeping you connected almost anywhere

  • After falling into a canyon recently, a couple was rescued thanks to the iPhone’s satellite communications feature.
  • Experts say that the satellite feature is proving itself in real-world situations.
  • But keep in mind that you won’t always be able to reach a satellite.
Someone using an iPhone and a satellite communication device on a mountaintop.

Alex Ratson / Getty Images

The satellite connectivity feature on the latest iPhone models might help save your life. 

Recently, a couple whose car fell into a canyon was rescued thanks to the new iPhone feature that alerted first responders to the accident. Apple is touting the ability of some iPhones to send satellite messages as a game-changer, and some experts agree. 

"We never had this kind of connectivity," tech analyst Jeff Kagan told Lifewire in an email interview. "When we were out, we were out of touch. Today, with smartphones, we are in touch more than ever. Now with satellite service on our iPhone, even more so."

Ears in the Sky

The recently released iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro models allow you to text emergency services via satellite when you're out of cellular and Wi-Fi coverage. You can also use the Find My app to share your location with people via satellite. Users will be connected directly to emergency services equipped to receive text messages or to relay centers with Apple-trained emergency specialists who can contact call centers that cannot receive text messages on the user's behalf.

However, Apple warns that the connection via satellite isn't instantaneous. Under the best conditions, a message might take 15 seconds to send and over a minute to send under trees. If your view is obstructed, you might not be able to connect to a satellite at all. 

Fortunately, the couple involved in the recent accident could connect via satellite even though they had fallen into a canyon. Rescuers found the car in California's Angeles National Forest. 

"They were in a remote canyon with no cellular phone service," the Montrose Search & Rescue Team wrote on Twitter. "The victims were able to extricate themselves from the car. Using the emergency satellite service on their iPhone 14, they could communicate to a relay center via text. The center contacted our station who dispatched us, patrol units, and @SEBLASD Air Rescue 5. The call center gave us an accurate latitude and longitude for the victims."

Kagan told of another recent survival story that might have ended differently with the help of an iPhone 14 and satellite service. His friend was driving in the middle of the night on a mountainous dirt road with no traffic and no lights. She went off the mountain road and wrecked down into the forest.

The car was destroyed, and she had trouble getting out. There was no cell phone service. "So, if there was not another car to find her, she would have died," he added. "She needed satellite service to call for help."

Apple Makes Contacting Help Easy

It's best to practice using the iPhone's satellite feature before you're in a situation where it's necessary, Carl Prouty, a tech expert at Abt Electronics, told Lifewire via email. He pointed out a demo mode in the Settings app under the Emergency SOS menu. 

"This will walk you through all the steps, so you're more comfortable," he added. 

An illustration of how SOS emergency calls via satellite work.

AntonioFrancois / Getty Images

If you find yourself in an emergency where it's needed, you'll first need to go into the Emergency SOS menu and connect to a satellite, Prouty said. You'll need to be in an area with a clear sky view. 

"Once you start the process, the phone will actually instruct you step by step on where to point the phone so you can connect to the satellite," he added. "[When] you're connected to the satellite, you should try calling the emergency number first (911). If the call won't go through, then try texting. Apple has done a great job of making this feature simple to use."

Alaa Negeda, IT expert and CTO for AlxTel, suggested in an email with Lifewire that you make sure your phone is well-charged or has a power bank if you're heading into dicey situations. "And always keep in mind that satellite connectivity is not always reliable, so be prepared for any delays or dropped connections," he added.

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