Over the weekend, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo caused a great deal of excitement by predicting that Apple’s upcoming iPhone 13 will have a low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellite communications mode. This could mean that users should be able to send texts or even make calls even when there’s no traditional cell tower coverage, with the phone talking directly to satellites.
Now, Bloomberg has poured some cold water over the news. According to the outlet, the feature is coming, but probably not until later, and in a far more limited scope.
According to Bloomberg, which spoke to several persons with knowledge of the situation, “future iPhones” will likely have “at least two” emergency features that will rely on satellite networks. Furthermore, while the upcoming iPhone 13 could have the hardware needed for these features, they’re unlikely to be ready before 2022.
Still, the upcoming features do sound pretty useful, even if they won’t completely free you from the shackles of your mobile provider. One of them is called “Emergency Message via Satellite,” and it will likely be integrated into the Messages app, allowing users to text emergency services and contacts over a satellite network when no other coverage is available. The messages will be restricted to a shorter length, and they’ll automatically go through on the emergency contact’s phone, even if it’s in Do Not Disturb mode. Also, “some” phone calls through this feature might be possible, but Bloomberg hasn’t got any further details.
The second feature will be used to report major emergencies over a satellite network, such as a plane crashing. After invoking it, the user will be asked to say what kind of emergency is happening, whether search and rescue services are needed, whether someone has been severely injured, and whether there are weapons involved. The feature should also be able to send the user’s location and medical ID, and notify the user’s emergency contacts.
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There are still a lot of unknowns about these features. They probably won’t work in every country, and they will be dependent on satellite availability as well as local regulations. Furthermore, connecting to a satellite might require some time, with Apple even designing a system for the user to find satellite coverage by walking in a certain direction.
We’ll probably find out more about these upcoming features in mid-September, when Apple is likely to launch the new iPhones.