We tested iPhone 14’s satellite messaging: it will save your life

A month after the United States, it’s France’s turn to get the rights to “Emergency SOS Via Satellite,” developed by Apple and its partner Globalstar. In the forest of Yvelines, Numerama had the opportunity to preview the feature.

A satellite-capable smartphone without a telescopic antenna: Apple’s September promise seemed so big it was hard to believe. However, the engineers of the California company have really achieved this. After suggesting for a while that the feature would be reserved for the American iPhone 14, 14 Plus, 14 Pro, and 14 Pro Max, Apple finally announced on November 15 that the feature would be available in France in December, just a short month later. United States of America. An amazing calendar that no one expected.

Starting Tuesday, December 13, French iPhone 14 owners running iOS 16.1 or higher (or tourists in French territory) can connect to a satellite 1,400 kilometers up to send urgent messages or share their location, with some foreign territories also including. . A big breakthrough for a gadget or mobile phone? Numerama tested the iPhone 14’s satellite connectivity in the Marly National Forest.

A function reserved for emergencies

Before explaining our experience, it’s important to distinguish what the satellite-connected iPhone 14 can and can’t do:

  • If you try to contact emergency services without a network, iPhone 14 can send an emergency message via satellite. Simply dial 15, 17, 18 or 112 to make the options appear.
  • After being notified, iPhone 14 may allow you to exchange messages with an Apple relay center employee. It is this person who is responsible for notifying the emergency services in the event of a problem. It will stay in the chat until you get better or we find you.
  • iPhone 14 can send your exact location to an emergency center or someone nearby without a network. In the program Place itthere is also the possibility of sharing the position via satellite.
This is what an emergency conversation with paramedics looks like. We can write whatever we want, each sending takes 15 seconds. // Source: Numerama

On the other hand, a satellite-connected iPhone 14 cannot:

  • Send a message to an individual, this feature is reserved for emergency services.
  • Make phone calls.
  • Access the Internet.
  • Receive notifications other than those sent by emergency services.

Why are there so many restrictions? Apple explains that it’s a bandwidth issue. It is very limited today. In order not to saturate the network, it is better to be content with real emergencies. Those who can save lives.

A miracle of simplicity

There is no work to activate the function. Two years of free is automatically activated on first use. Until then, Apple will probably expand the range of possibilities and develop an economic model (the brand intends to pay for this, but we don’t know how much).

To start satellite mode, simply try making an emergency call in a non-network area. Then it says iPhone “No connection. Try sending an urgent message via satellite » and offers the option. By selecting it, you launch one of the most ergonomic interfaces of recent years.

Activating the satellite function.  // Source: Numerama
Activating the satellite function. // Source: Numerama

How does this work? Simply put, the iPhone 14 regularly loads a map of Globalstar satellites in the sky in the background. When the SOS mode is activated, the iPhone asks its user to fill out a quick form developed with the help of emergency services to save time (emergency, injury, etc.). Then, thanks to the gyroscope, the iPhone knows exactly where the satellites are in the sky. The extremely simple interface tells you where to turn (using the arrow) until the cursor is in the white area. After a few seconds, the white turns green. This means that the iPhone 14 is connected to the satellite.

Once connected to the satellite, if there are no obstructions (such as trees, but clouds are not a problem), it takes about 15 seconds for the iPhone to transmit the emergency message from Apple to the central relay. There, brand-trained first responders will have a dual mission: to contact you (with a 15-second delay each time asking and receiving information from you) and to inform the emergency services of what is happening. You. Apple chose this approach because it is simpler than training 15 and 18 to receive SMS. However, France’s emergency services have been publicly alerted to the development.

Satellite finder interface.  You need to point the iPhone at the point that corresponds to the satellite.  // Source: Numerama
Satellite finder interface. You need to point the iPhone at the point that corresponds to the satellite. // Source: Numerama

After the message is sent, the iPhone encourages its user to stay in front of the satellite in case they receive a new message. If there are no satellites at the time of transmission, the iPhone gives the exact time to wait for a new satellite to pass (generally less than 5 minutes, they are at an altitude of 1400 km and traveling at 24,000 km/h). Another possibility: when you send an urgent message, you can include a member of your family or a loved one in the circuit (this must be configured in advance in the settings, in the “Emergency contact” section). They will then have access to your entire conversation and location with emergency services, but will not be able to intervene to avoid polluting the network.

In one month in the United States, the feature would already allow rescuers to perform three rescues (there may even be others that Apple is not aware of).

Send your location, consumer satellite function

In addition to instant messages, Apple offers another feature, this time aimed at the general public. In the program Place ittitle I, the iPhone 14 in France can send its location to any contact via satellite. The procedure is the same, you need to point the iPhone at the antenna in the sky and wait 15 seconds. What does it mean? For example, sending the ski your position or telling you where to pick you up even if you don’t take anything.

On the left, it sends its location to a loved one via satellite.  On the right, demo mode to test the emergency function.  // Source: Numerama
On the left, it sends its location to a loved one via satellite. On the right, demo mode to test the emergency function. // Source: Numerama

Very simple to use and with public service, the satellite connection of the iPhone 14 impresses with its efficiency. The system has the advantage of working in all countries where Apple has permission to deploy it, because the frequencies are the same all over the planet (so St. Barthélemy, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Martin and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon are concerned) once launched, it’s just a matter of permissions ). Apple assures that the effect of the satellite connection on the autonomy is negligible, which should allow the iPhone 14 to save its life even if it does not have much battery.

Finally, if you want to test emergency services without the hassle (no kidding, don’t), Apple has thought of that, too. In the iPhone settings, in the “Emergency call” section, it is possible to access the service test. The message is not sent to emergency services.

To continue

Here, Apple turns the island into a widget for playing music.  // Source: Numerama

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