“Unlike stationary base stations, communications satellites are hundreds of miles above Earth and fly at speeds of 15,000 miles or more. To connect to these satellites, you need to be outdoors with a clear view of the sky. “Bandwidth is very limited. Even sending a text message is a technical challenge,” Williams said. “Typically, the only way to get into such networks is with expensive devices that use bulky external antennas.”
“I knew that approach wouldn’t work on the iPhone,” she added. “So we invented another method.”
The phone will have software that tells the user where to point the phone to link to the satellite if no other service options are available. Once connected, the phone will be able to send and receive information for emergency assistance, according to Ashley Williams, her Apple satellite specialist who spoke during the event. The company said it created a short text compression mechanism to compress messages so that if a user looked up at the sky, it would take about 15 seconds to send. (It may take more than a few minutes if there are leaves, etc.)
The service works with text-based communications, she said, and Apple has set up “relay centers” to pass texts so it can be used to communicate with emergency centers that only accept voice calls.
The service can also be used in non-emergency situations, such as when a user goes on a long hike and wants to let their family know where they are.
The service is free for two years with the purchase of an iPhone 14, said Kaiann Drance, Apple’s vice president of iPhone marketing. He did not disclose the cost of subsequent services.
It wasn’t immediately clear which satellites in orbit would provide Apple’s new service. Apple did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.