Apple invested $450 million in a satellite SOS system. We tried it

CNN business

When Apple announced at its closely watched September product launch event that it would soon introduce an Emergency SOS feature powered by a network of satellites orbiting the Earth, Brooklyn probably wasn’t the isolated location it had most in mind to use.

But on a rainy afternoon last week, I found myself trying to connect to one of Prospect Park’s satellites as part of a demo of the upcoming feature. I came out from under a huge oak tree the rain began to fall harder. I then moved my device slightly to the right and quickly regained signal access and continued texting with an emergency dispatcher.

The rain was not the issue; it was the leaf that limited my phone view of the sky

On Tuesday, Apple ( AAPL ) will launch its Satellite Emergency SOS feature for iPhone 14 owners in the United States and Canada, with plans to expand. In the UK, France, Germany and Ireland next month. The free feature promises to put iPhone users in touch with dedicated dispatchers in emergency situations when the satellite cell phone network is unavailable.

Mountaineers, emergency responders and intrepid travelers are well aware of the existing world of satellite phones, which provide SMS and data services anywhere on Earth. Now Apple is trying to do the same with its iPhones, helping this year’s consumers not only enjoy their devices better, but also live more securely as part of a broader device. In the process, its expensive products may become a little more essential in an uncertain economic environment with some rethinking expenses.

Apple recently invested $450 million in Globalstar, a global satellite service, and other providers to support the development of 24 low-orbit satellites at an altitude higher than the International Space Station. The investment is part of Apple’s Advanced Manufacturing Fund, which was previously used to produce glass with Corning and facial recognition laser technology.

During my test Using an Apple-provided iPhone 14, I tried to call 911, but it was automatically redirected to Emergency SOS via Satellite dispatchers for demo purposes. When the device could not connect to the mobile service, a small green icon appeared in the lower right of the call screen to start a text conversation with the emergency services.

I was asked to fill out a questionnaire and was asked some short multiple choice questions; I realized I was lost but not injured. Almost 20 seconds later, I received confirmation that my geolocation coordinates had been sent to a dispatcher, along with my medical ID, emergency contact information, and answers to my questions. I was told to keep the answers short, likely to reduce the amount of data needed to transfer to the satellite and back to a sender. I was also asked to identify nearby landmarks and where I entered the park. My entire exchange lasted about four minutes.

Apple said the size of the messages was greatly condensed so that satellites could be routed more efficiently to ground stations located around the world. Once received, texts are sent to local emergency services or a relay center with Apple-trained emergency specialists who can dispatch help.

But even in a city, I lost satellite access several times when I couldn’t see the sky clearly. A grayscale circle with a green signal image has appeared when connected, but turns yellow when conditions were poor and red when connectivity was lost. I walked To find a satellite about 200 meters from my original location. once there I naturally held the device in my hand; Apple said there’s no need to lift or shake.

When it works, the life-saving potential of this feature is obvious. But there are some notes For starters, it’s text alone; users will need to physically hold the device in their hands to initiate an exchange, which is not always possible if they are injured. The tool, however, works with iPhone 14 and Apple Watch crash detection, so it can automatically dial emergency services or send coordinates to a dispatcher when the user is unconscious or can’t reach the iPhone.

For now, Satellite Emergency SOS only works in English, Spanish and French, though senders They have professional interpreting services available for many more languages. Apple said it also might not work in all areas, such as places above 62° latitude, including northern Canada and Alaska.

For iPhone 14 users who want to see how the tool works and test the process of searching for a satellite, a demo is available in the Settings section “Emergency SOS by satellite”. Apple said the feature is available for free for two years and will then reevaluate the offer based on what it learns about usage during that time.