Along with your tire repair tools and first aid kit, a satellite communicator is a must-have safety device for off-grid overland travel. Now, with the release of the new iPhone 14, you’ll likely have one in your pocket at all times. Along with a host of new features, including longer battery life and an upgraded camera for capturing all those Instagram-worthy campsites, the iPhone 14 will allow you to contact emergency services when you’re out of cellular and Wi-Fi coverage.
Apple’s Emergency SOS via satellite feature will be available for iPhone 14 users in the US and Canada, with an iOS 16 software update coming in November 2022. The iPhone’s Emergency SOS feature is not geared towards backcountry Tiktok binges and is designed for use in serious situations only when no other means of reaching help is available. If an emergency call can’t connect because you’re outside cell range, your iPhone will try to connect via satellite to access the help that you need.
If you get into a bind, the iPhone 14’s satellite SOS is different than sending a standard text message, and Apple will walk you through the process using a series of simple screen taps. When an initial 911 call doesn’t connect, Apple’s Emergency Text via Satellite option becomes available. The iPhone front-loads a few vital questions to assess your situation and shows you where to point your phone to connect to a satellite. The initial questionnaire and follow-up messages are supported by trained Apple specialists who can call for help on your behalf.
As with all standalone satellite messengers, it can take anywhere from 15 seconds to over a minute to send an iPhone SOS message. Environmental factors, such as having a clear view of the sky, affect how long communications may take.
According to Reuters, Apple is partnering with Globalstar for their satellite connectivity. Globalstar, most commonly known to overlanders as the makers of SPOT satellite messengers, manages an array of low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites that allow users to stay connected in even the most suboptimal conditions, like mountainous areas or urban canyons.
In addition to the Emergency SOS, the iPhone 14 promises more off-grid peace of mind with a satellite version of Apple’s “Find My” feature. Using the same app that allows you to locate a misplaced device, you will now be able to manually share your location over satellite with friends and family.
Despite the promise of having emergency support in your pocket, getting a shiny new phone is no reason to leave your SPOT, inReach, or Zoleo at home. Unlike the iPhone, dedicated satellite communicators are durable, proven, and purpose-built. Even after Apple’s new tech has been put through its paces in serious, real-world emergencies, the iPhone 14 will never be a substitute for getting trained and making good decisions when you’re out in the backcountry.