Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

iPhone 13’s satellite communication features aren’t what you think, Bloomberg says

Published Aug 31st, 2021 7:31AM EDT
iPhone 13 Satellite
Image: YouTube

If you buy through a BGR link, we may earn an affiliate commission, helping support our expert product labs.

A recent iPhone 13 report said the handset will pack a feature not available from other devices. That’s support for satellite communications in addition to the usual connectivity found on a high-end flagship. The typical wireless communication protocols in a high-end 2021 smartphone include 4G/5G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, and UWB connectivity.

Satellite connectivity might seem surprising for a traditional smartphone, but the detail came from a trustworthy source. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said in a note to investors that Apple has an entire team studying ways to add support for satellite communication support in various products, not just the iPhone. A different report indicates that the iPhone 13’s satellite connectivity won’t support the features we expect. And the feature might not be available to users until 2022.

Satellite connectivity won’t allow users to exchange text messages and place calls. That’s what many assumed when Kuo’s report came out. According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, Apple has been working to incorporate satellite support into the iPhone for years.

When the feature goes live next year, it won’t serve basic communication needs. Instead, satellite support should provide iPhone 13 owners with better emergency communication features. The satellite connectivity will be reserved for emergencies, especially in places where traditional Wi-Fi and 4G/5G networks aren’t available or are down.

The rumored iPhone 13 satellite features

Gurman says that even if the iPhone 13 packs the necessary hardware to support satellite connectivity, the features will only roll out in 2022, at the earliest. Apple has not announced anything about satellite connectivity features coming to iOS 15. But since this would be a unique iPhone 13 functionality, Apple would only reveal it during the iPhone launch event.

Apple plans to use satellite networks as a backup during emergencies. iPhone users would send text messages to first responders and report various types of accidents in areas without cellular coverage.

Per Bloomberg, Apple has planned only these two distinct satellite-dependant communication features for the iPhone.

Emergency Message via Satellite

The first one is called Emergency Message via Satellite, a pretty self-explanatory name. Users will be able to text emergency services and contacts via satellite when there’s no cell signal. It’ll be built right into the Messages app as a third protocol. The feature will add a new color for the text bubbles seen in the app. Green is for standard SMS messages, blue is for iMessages, and gray will indicate texts sent over satellites.

Codenamed Stewie at Apple, the emergency messages will have a shorter length. They’ll push through to an emergency contact’s phone, even if the do-not-disturb mode is enabled. Users might only have to type “Emergency SOS” in the contact field to start such a message. In the future, the service might handle phone calls as well.

Kuo’s report made it seem like the iPhone 13 would allow users to rely on satellite to call and text, just as they would with a satellite phone. That won’t be the case.

Reporting an emergency over satellite

The second satellite feature for the iPhone will let users report major emergencies. This might include car crashes, plane crashes, sinking ships, and other disasters.

The phone will ask whether the emergency includes a car, boat, plane, or fire. It’ll also take specific information, like a person falling overboard or a ship that’s sinking. It’ll ask a user if they need search and rescue services. Also, it’ll ask them if there’s suspicious behavior for weapons. And it’ll ask about injuries.

The satellite emergency feature will also let iPhone users send over location data and Medical ID data. This will inform first responders about a person’s medical history, age, medication, height, and weight. It also supports sending notifications to emergency contacts.

When will the iPhone 13 launch?

Kuo’s iPhone 13 report named Globalstar as a potential Apple partner. The rumor sent the company’s stock soaring on Monday, up 64% over the previous close. Globalstar said in previous disclosures that it had signed an agreement with an unidentified party to develop a new service. Apple was never named, but people believe that company is Apple.

Bloomberg notes that Apple has even considered developing its own satellites. But the iPhone satellite features would work on existing networks.

Finally, the report says that iPhones will use a special modem from Qualcomm to connect to satellite networks. But Apple is also developing its own custom cellular modems for the future.

Apple will introduce the iPhone 13 series in mid-September. At least that’s the current consensus among insiders. It’ll be interesting to see whether Apple mentions satellite connectivity support during the keynote.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.