What Mark Gurman’s sources are saying about Apple’s low-earth orbit ambitions

They’re not talking about making satellite phone calls — at least not yet — and they’re not talking about this year’s iPhone.

From Gurman’s “Apple Plans to Add Satellite Features to iPhones for Emergencies” posted Monday on Bloomberg.com:

Apple Inc.’s push to bring satellite capabilities to the iPhone will be focused on emergency situations, allowing users to send texts to first responders and report crashes in areas without cellular coverage.

The company is developing at least two related emergency features that will rely on satellite networks, aiming to release them in future iPhones, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

The first component, dubbed Emergency Message via Satellite, will let users text emergency services and contacts over a satellite network when there’s no cell signal available. That feature will be integrated into the Messages app as a third protocol — alongside the standard SMS and iMessage — and appear with gray message bubbles instead of green or blue. The second feature will be a tool to report major emergencies, such as plane crashes and sinking ships, also using satellite networks.

The texting-via-satellite tool, codenamed Stewie inside Apple, will restrict messages to a shorter length. The texts will automatically push through to an emergency contact’s phone, even if the do-not-disturb setting is on. One planned design will let a user send the message by typing “Emergency SOS” where they would usually input a contact name. In addition to delivering texts, the service may eventually be able to handle some phone calls too…

The second emergency feature is focused on letting users report a crisis. The phone will ask what kind of emergency is happening, such as whether it involves a car, boat, plane or fire.

The system is also able to take more specific information, such as a person falling overboard or a ship sinking. It will ask a user if search and rescue services are needed, if there is suspicious behavior or weapons involved, and if a person has suffered a traumatic injury.

It’s unclear which emergency services or providers the system would tap into. The set of features would compete with the Garmin inReach device, which lets users send short messages or an SOS over satellite networks.

My take: So much for the usually reliable Ming-Chi Kuo.

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7 Comments

  1. Fred Stein said:
    This makes sense, regardless of timing.

    In California, we just had two tragic accidents likely due to people overheating: One a lone elite runner; The other a young couple with their baby and dog.

    Re timing, it seems Apple would wait for QCOM’s x65 chip, or maybe design their own. This will drive more upgrades, and used iPhone sales to bring new users/subscribers to the ecosystem.

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    August 31, 2021
    • Gregg Thurman said:
      So much for the usually reliable Ming-Chi Kuo.

      You’re kidding, right?

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      August 31, 2021
  2. Jerry Doyle said:
    As I wrote yesterday, the immediate value of this feature is life saving for many people, not just a few. Too often we think of S&R efforts targeted for injured wilderness backpackers or for stranded motorists in desolate areas, but the utility of this new iPhone feature is omnipresent in the midst of multitude of natural disasters occurring routinely from hurricanes, tornados, tropical storms, earthquakes, fires, flooding, etc. People carry their phones on their person. As I write, over half of the New Orleans metropolitan area is without cellular service and AT&T is not saying when full service returns. Including the night of the hurricane and in its aftermath when tens of thousands were stranded and thousands more in need of emergency aid, this situation continues and likely will continue in the coming weeks. The main electrical grid for the Crescent City (or Big Easy) is gone and has to be rebuilt as Ida basically destroyed it. The infrastructure in outlying areas also are impaired significantly. This means a hundred plus thousands of folk will be without A/C in hot-humid tropical climate of 90/90 plus heat & humidity because they will not leave their homes. Many will develop heat exhaustion or need some form of help. The National Guard, Parish Sheriff’s office personnel along with volunteers are going from house-to-house. Many trapped folk are in the rural bayous and Atchafalaya Basin area where no cellular service or power exists. Yesterday, an alligator attacked a 74 year old man wading through water alongside his front porch, ripping off his arm. This was an emergency occurring without access to power or cellular service to call for help. Unfortunately, the man succumb. Immediate communication with first responders is paramount, making the difference between life & death.

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    August 31, 2021
  3. Bart Yee said:
    Seems to me mental health issues should also be included as possible external or self behaviors that could be deemed an emergency or crisis. Could tie that into health or Anxiety apps on Watch or iPhone, plus could Siri/Watch detect sounds of chaos, gunfire, physics of falls, accidents, or defensive movements as potentially dangerous situations and query the user, perhaps stealthily? Lots of potential good here, and the occasional false positive can be machine learned and addressed.

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    August 31, 2021
  4. Steven Noyes said:
    I’m starting to think Kessler Syndrome might put an end to Apple’s plans.

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    August 31, 2021

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