Rumored iPhone satellite communications could be for serious emergencies only

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Rumored iPhone satellite communications could be for serious emergencies only
Stuck in the middle of nowhere? Someday your iPhone might be able to summon help even if you can’t get a cell signal.
Photo: Cult of Mac/Max Pixel

A second trusted source for insider Apple information says future iPhones will be able to communicate with satellites, exchanging texts and possibly phone calls. But new leaked details indicate this feature will be more limited than some might hope.

It would still be a significant advancement by Apple. The company reportedly is even considering launching its own satellites.

News that the iPhone 13 will be able to exchange texts and phone calls with low Earth orbit satellites first came from respected TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo over the weekend. And on Monday, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman seconded the report. But he also said it’ll be strictly for serious emergencies only.

Both agree that the 2021 iPhone will likely have the hardware necessary to exchange two-way signals with satellites. But Apple might not enable it through software.

iPhone satellite communication only for real emergencies

The ability to communicate via satellite would allow iPhone users to stay in contact when outside the range of 4G/5G cellular networks.

But Apple’s service reportedly won‘t be for casual chitchat. Users will only be able to use it to text someone listed on their device as an emergency contact. “The texting-via-satellite tool, codenamed Stewie inside Apple, will restrict messages to a shorter length,” says Gurman. “The texts will automatically push through to an emergency contact’s phone, even if the do-not-disturb setting is on.”

It could also be used to contact emergency services and provide a location and medical history if it’s stored on the iPhone.

Apple is also considering including a system to report disasters like plane crashes via satellite.

The Bloomberg report says the software for the Emergency Message via Satellite service isn’t likely to be ready before 2022. And it’s always possible Apple might pull the plug on the project without ever announcing it. Or the company might go all in. “As part of its broader efforts, Apple has even considered eventually deploying its own satellites, but this feature is likely to rely on existing networks,” notes Gurman.