If there was ever a reason to get an iPhone 14, this might be it. Apple’s Emergency SOS via satellite service is now operational in Australia and New Zealand. It’s only available on iPhone 14 but the good news is, it’s all versions of iPhone 14.
Australia and New Zealand join Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, the U.K., and the U.S. where Emergency SOS via satellite and Find My via satellite are active.
Since launching last year, Emergency SOS via satellite has already helped save lives in the 12 countries where it has been available. The service is free for two years starting at the time of activation of a new iPhone 14 model.
I tested the service before launch in Sydney bushland. The iPhone had no cell or WI-FI connection so we had to acquire a satellite to send messages to Apple’s service centre – somewhere out there. The satellites move fast so every couple of minutes we needed to move the iPhone.
Although the text send and receive was slow by SMS or regular messaging apps – it was quick considering how difficult it is to send messages to a fast moving relay in orbit.
This service connects users to relay centres staffed with Apple-trained emergency specialists who are ready to contact Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) — or emergency services call centres — on the userʼs behalf to get them the help they need.
iPhone can already quickly and easily call emergency services if a user is in need of help, even if they are unable to dial 000, by pressing and holding the side button with one of the volume buttons until the Emergency SOS slider appears. With Emergency SOS via satellite, an easy-to-use interface appears on iPhone to get the user help utilising a satellite connection if they are not able to reach emergency services because no cellular or Wi-Fi coverage is available. A short questionnaire appears to help the user answer vital questions with a few simple taps, which are transmitted to dispatchers in the initial message, to ensure they are able to quickly understand the userʼs situation and location. Apple worked closely with experts to review standard questions and protocols to identify the most common reasons for calling emergency services.
Following the questionnaire, the intuitive interface guides the user where in the sky to point their iPhone to connect and send the initial message. This message includes the userʼs questionnaire responses; location, including altitude; iPhone battery level; and Medical ID, if enabled. The transcript with relay centre specialists can also be shared with the userʼs emergency contacts to keep them informed.
Satellites move rapidly, have low bandwidth, and are located more than a thousand kilometres away from Earth, so it can take a few minutes for even short messages to get through. Apple designed and built custom components and software that allow iPhone 14 to connect to a satelliteʼs unique frequencies without a bulky antenna. A text compression algorithm was also developed to reduce the average size of messages by 3x, making the experience as fast as possible. With Emergency SOS via satellite, users can send and receive messages in as little as 15 seconds in clear conditions.3 Using the built-in Emergency SOS via satellite demo, users can test satellite connectivity on their iPhone by connecting to a real satellite in range without contacting emergency services, allowing them to experience the process and familiarise themselves with the service.
For users who go out of cellular or Wi-Fi range but donʼt experience an emergency, this advanced technology also enables them to share their location via satellite with Find My. In the Find My app, users can open the Me tab, swipe up to see My Location via Satellite, and tap Send My Location. 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.
NOTE: Emergency SOS via satellite and Find My via satellite require iOS 16.4 or later.