The satellite plans of Apple could go beyond emergencies

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The satellite plans of Apple could go beyond emergencies
The satellite plans of Apple could go beyond emergencies

Apple has announced that the Emergency SOS via Satellite feature, which allows users to send text messages to emergency services in areas where there is no cellular or WiFi coverage, has been expanded to four new countries. Recently, the service was expanded into the UK, France, Germany, and Ireland as well as the US and Canada, where it launched last month. The number of countries that will be added to the list is expected to increase in the future. The plans Apple has for the future go well beyond that, however.

There is more to Apple’s satellite plans than emergency services

The satellite plans of Apple could go beyond emergencies

Although Apple’s plans for satellite communications may be limited to emergency use at the moment, a patent granted on the same day suggests that Apple’s plans for satellite communications may extend beyond emergency use in the future. As described in the patent, the company may be able to transmit voice, video, and other media data via satellite communications. In describing the new patent Apple has filed, here’s how the company describes it:

The iPhone application provides an easy-to-use interface to the user in the event no cellular or Wi-Fi coverage is available, so the user can get help using a satellite connection if no cellular or Wi-Fi coverage is available. A short questionnaire appears to help the user answer vital questions with a few simple taps, which is transmitted to dispatchers in the initial message, to ensure they are able to quickly understand a user’s situation and location…

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Following the questionnaire, the intuitive interface guides the user where to point their iPhone to connect and sends the initial message. This message includes the user’s questionnaire responses; location, including altitude; iPhone battery level; and Medical ID, if enabled. The questionnaire and follow-up messages are relayed directly via satellite to dispatchers that accept text messages, or to relay centers staffed by Apple‑trained specialists who can call for help on the user’s behalf. The transcript can also be shared with the user’s emergency contacts to keep them informed.”

Apple has currently committed $450m to support the satellite communications feature, a significant amount of money even by Apple’s standards for a service that will only be used by a small fraction of iPhone owners. However, if the service is the start of something bigger, then the investment could look rather modest.

Apple satellite communications technology is evolving from being used only by adventurers and yacht owners to being accessible to ordinary internet users. As such, there may be sense in Apple investing in the technology. Of course, as with all patents, it’s important to note that Apple patents many more ideas than ever make it into actual products and services.

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