Apple has launched its ‘Emergency SOS’ service, which allows iPhones to communicate using satellites when they have no signal.
The feature is intended to allow people to contact emergency services when they are outside of cellular or WiFi coverage. But users can also use it to keep their friends and family updated on their whereabouts when they are off grid, since it can send information to the Find My tracking app.
The new tool was introduced with the iPhone 14 line-up, which include the hardware required to communicate with the satellites, when they were launched in September. But it was not turned on until now.
From today, owners of those latest iPhones in the US and Canada can use the system. And Apple announced that it will be coming to the UK, France, Germany, Ireland and the UK in December.
The service is free for the first two years, Apple said. It has not confirmed how much – or whether – it will charge after that.
“Some of the most popular places to travel are off the beaten path and simply lack cellular coverage. With Emergency SOS via satellite, the iPhone 14 lineup provides an indispensable tool that can get users the help they need while they are off the grid,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s marketing chief, in a statement.
“Our teams worked tirelessly to tackle a new set of technical challenges to bring this service to life, in addition to building a reliable on-the-ground infrastructure. Emergency SOS via satellite is a breakthrough service available only on the iPhone 14 lineup, and a new innovation that we hope will provide our customers some peace of mind.”
The feature is one of a range of safety and security features introduced in recent Apple products that their owners are unlikely to want to use. This year’s iPhones and Apple Watches also include crash detection, for instance, which uses new sensors to spot when their owners are in a car accident and notify emergency services.
In addition to adding the satellite capabilities to the iPhone, and signing agreements that will allow Apple devices to connect to those satellites that are already in the air, Apple has said that it has building new processes so that the iPhones can effectively communicate with emergency services. Connections can be slow and so users will be walked through a questionnaire to ensure they include vital information, which will then be sent on to the emergency services.
When the system is used, users will take that questionnaire and then be walked through the process of finding a satellite, which can include pointing the phone at the right place in the sky. It will then connect and relay all the information from that questionnaire, as well as a users’ location, battery level and medical information.
Apple said that it has built a demo into the iPhone, so that users can try it out without actually calling emergency services.