Now this is something nobody saw coming. Just a day or two ago, reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo announced that the next iPhone will be able to send messages even when you’re nowhere near a cell tower or wifi. Well, that’s pretty cool.
It’ll do it by connecting to LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites. The iPhone’s modem will enable a new radio technology that allows this connection. This is a remarkable emergency communication set-up and highly useful if you’re in trouble and there’s no cell coverage.
Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman has now contributed to the topic several times, including in today’s Power On newsletter. He hadn’t mentioned it before Ming-Chi Kuo did, so it may be a feature Apple had been able to keep under wraps rather well until now.
First, he said that it will be used for two purposes, to contact emergency services and loved ones via the regular Messages app, with bubbles appearing as gray instead of blue or green as they usually are.
The second purpose will be as a direct reporting mechanism for major emergencies such as plane crashes, it seems.
Now, in the latest edition of his newsletter, he spelled things out in more detail. Here is the new information:
Select territories only
Although he doesn’t specify which countries will have access to it, Gurman says: “The emergency features will only work in areas without any cellular coverage and only in select markets.”
It’s a certainty that the U.S. will be one market and Apple simply wouldn’t release it if it weren’t. But there are no more clues. After all, every single country has areas without any cellular coverage.
Then comes the jaw-dropper:
Apple may launch its own satellites
Gurman says, “Apple envisions eventually deploying its own array of satellites to beam data to devices, but that plan is likely years away from taking off.”
Wow. That’s quite something. Would these satellites also offer GPS or similar information to improve Apple Maps, perhaps? And would the plan be to offer more services such as phone calls and data through satellite?
But it’s not a satellite iPhone
As part of his coverage, Gurman states that there are no plans to use the satellite technology for phone calls yet for areas without cell coverage. “The answer is a big no. That’s not happening now, next year, or anytime in the near future.”
This makes sense. Apple’s relationship with phone networks around the world is highly integrated—look no further than the appearance of Verizon at the iPhone 12 launch to talk about 5G—so to wreck that relationship would be tricky.
It’ll be a text service
As he had previously reported, emergency usage of this capability will be restricted to messages in the Messages app, which will appear in gray, “allowing users to contact emergency services and close friends without any cell signal”. He adds that one day, calls may be possible one day but not now.
Gurman has previously said that although the hardware will be in the next iPhones, expected in the coming weeks, the services associated with them will come later, likely in 2022.
Additionally, to connect to a satellite, the user would need to be outdoors and it may take 60 seconds or more to get a signal. Plus, local laws will govern what satellites will be accessible.
Lots of qualifiers, then, but it’s still a very cool addition to the iPhone’s capabilities.
What’s not stated but seems likely to me is that as the modem is common to all iPhones in a particular release year, that it is a service that will be available on all four models expected to be announced, not reserved for the Pro versions.
The announcement of the next iPhone, along with AirPods 3 and Apple Watch Series 7, is coming soon. Check this out for the exact date I’m predicting.
By David Phelan
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