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Emergency SOS via satellite on iPhone 14 – it’s live!

Yesterday saw the launch of this new safety feature. Let’s take a closer look!

Emergency SOS via Satellite
image courtesy of Apple

Far Out

The Emergency SOS via satellite feature, actually played its part in the naming of the lastest Apple event.

All those involved in the Apple tech space, love to speculate what giveaways there are in the event names. As it turned out, with the Far Out one, it could not have been more obvious.

There had long been speculation that Apple were working on some kind of SOS satellite technology. The Far Out event, is where they put some flesh on those bones, and explained to us exactly how it would work. At that event, they promised that Emergency SOS via Satellite would be launched later this year.

True to their word, yesterday, it finally did launch. To start with, it is only available to iPhone 14, and 14 Pro users, in the US and Canada, but will rapidly be rolling out to other countries too.

What is Emergency SOS

I could try to describe it, but Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, will probably make a better fist of it –

“Some of the most popular places to travel are off the beaten path and simply lack cellular coverage. With Emergency SOS via satellite, the iPhone 14 lineup provides an indispensable tool that can get users the help they need while they are off the grid.”

The easiest way to describe Emergency SOS, is that it will connect users to rescuers and emergency services, in areas where there is no cell, or Wi-Fi coverage. The service uses a network of Globalstar satellites.

The feature will only make itself available to you, when you attempt to make a call, or send a message, but don’t have a connection. In the US and Canada, if you now head to Settings > Emergency SOS, there, you’ll find a new Emergency SOS via satellite section. You’ll also notice a ‘Try Demo’ option, more of which later.

Brief & quick

Communicating via satellites is a slow method of communicating, and that was one of the first hurdles that Apple had to overcome. Before even sending your first message, you’ll be drilled through a series of simple questions. Apple worked closely with experts to identify the most common reasons for calling emergency services. The set of yes/no type questions were then developed around those parameters.

The aim of this method, is to make sure, that when you do send a message, there is not a long delay of messages going back and forth. The questions will cover areas such as whether you’re lost, have been in an accident, or are injured. Your exact location will be sent with your message, and, if you’ve activated Medical ID, that too will be sent.

That message will be sent to local, emergency services, or, relay centres, which are manned by Apple-trained personnel.

The full rollout is expected to be problem free, as most 911 centres will require no extra equipment to receive these messages. Jennifer Kirkland, the Grand Junction Regional Communication Centre’s 911 centre manager, pointed out –

“Because this service requires no additional technology for PSAPs Public Safety Answering Points), and because Apple has implemented a relay centre model that 911 operators are familiar with, we can expect a seamless rollout.”

Before despatching help, a few more questions will be asked to help the services ascertain what your circumstances are, and level of help required. They’ll check how much battery you’ve left on your iPhone, what happened, are you in immediate danger and your state of mobility.

Clear skies

Emergency SOS via Satellite works by directing you to point your iPhone toward the nearest, suitable satellite. It will always work at its best with clear skies, as that helps to make the best connection. With good conditions, and using the compressed message algorithm that Apple have created, a brief message can be sent in as little as 15 seconds.

Your iPhone will always be guiding you with directions to help you maintain the best, possible connection. It will let you know, with an on-screen message, if the connection has dropped, or inform you of how you can improve the connection.

In poor conditions, sending messages can take as long as a few minutes.

Find My

Emergency SOS can only be used to send messages to emergency responders. You cannot contact family or friends via the feature. But, it can be used with the Find My app on your iPhone.

Using the satellites, you’ll be able to let close family know your location. When there is no other connection, you’ll be able to update your Find My location, by heading to the ‘My Location via Satellite’, which you’ll find under the ‘Me’ tab in the Find My app. The satellite connection on the iPhone 14 lineup also works with other safety features available on iPhone and Apple Watch, including Crash Detection and Fall Detection.

Ready to use

There really are very few criteria to the service, and it is available to all iPhone 14 & iPhone 14 Pro users. As mentioned, yesterday, it was only rolled out in the States & Canada, but it is expected to make it to Germany, the UK, France, and Ireland before Christmas. For the first two years, the service will be free. As yet, Apple has not confirmed what the cost will be after that. Your OS will need to be 16.1 or later to use the new feature.

Testing, testing

I drew your attention to the fact there is a demo version of the Emergency SOS via Satellite feature.

Clearly, to try it out, by activating the emergency services, would be irresponsible. But, Apple are keen for iPhone 14 users to familiarise themselves with the UI.

The demo will mimic exactly what you’ll be faced with in a real-life situation. Once the demo is enabled, it will disable cellular service, and pinpoint your location. From that point, it will take you through the guiding process of finding the best connection to a satellite. After a connection is made, you will be able to simulate messages for two situations – those being lost, or trapped. Emergency SOS will act precisely as if you were in genuine danger. To exit the demo mode, just press ‘Done’ at the top of the screen.

There is a support document from Apple about the service, which you’ll find here.

Wrapping up

Like Fall Detection and Crash Detection, this is the type of feature that you hope you’ll never need to use. It’s a type of insurance, I guess. I will certainly look at the demo mode when it launches next month in the UK. God forbid I should ever find myself needing to use it, I’d rather be up to speed with what to expect.

Researching for this blog today, made me realise that Apple do seem to have thought of most eventualities. I am sure we will get videos posted soon enough of Emergency SOS via Satellite being used in the wild…

Love or hate ‘em, Apple are determined to keep one step ahead of the competition.

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