We tried Apple's new SOS tool when you don't have cell service |  CNN Business

We tried Apple’s new SOS tool when you don’t have cell service | CNN Business

CNN Business

When Apple announced at its well-attended product launch event in September that it would soon introduce an emergency SOS feature powered by a network of satellites orbiting above Earth, Brooklyn probably wasn’t the secluded place that most had in mind to use it.

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

The rain was not the problem; it was the foliage limiting my phone sky View.

On Tuesday, Apple (AAPL) will launch the Emergency SOS feature via satellite for iPhone 14 owners in the US and Canada, with plans to roll it out in the UK, France, Germany and Ireland next month. The free feature promises to allow iPhone users to contact dedicated emergency dispatchers via satellites when a cell phone network is unavailable.

Hikers, emergency responders, and intrepid travelers may be familiar with today’s world of satellite phones, which deliver voice, text, and data services anywhere on Earth. But existing satellite phones often have large protruding antennas. Apple said it wanted to invent a technology that would allow direct communication with satellites still in the format of the iPhone.

“It all started with finding frequencies that would work on iPhone and were also available for use on satellites,” Arun Mathias, vice president of wireless technologies and ecosystem at Apple, told CNN Business. “Then we made the necessary hardware changes on the iPhones, but without bulky antennas.” Apple, he added, first built new software that allowed the iPhone to communicate with satellites and then designed the user experience around it.

The effort is part of a broader narrative this year to consumers that its devices not only help them live better, but also live safer. By doing so, it could make its pricey products a little more essential in an uncertain economic environment that forces a rethink on spending.

Apple recently invested $450 million in Globalstar, a global satellite service, and other providers to support the development of 24 low-orbit satellites flying at 16,000 mph at an altitude higher than the International Space Station. The investment is part of Apple’s Advanced Manufacturing Fund, which was previously used for glass production with Corning and laser technology for facial recognition.

During my test with an iPhone 14 provided by Apple, I attempted to call 911 but was automatically redirected to Emergency SOS via satellite dispatchers for demo purposes. When the device was unable to connect to cellular service, a small green icon appeared at the bottom right of the call screen to initiate a text conversation with emergency services.

On Tuesday, Apple will launch the Emergency SOS feature with satellite for those who own an iPhone 14 in the United States and Canada.

I was asked to complete a questionnaire and answer a handful of short multiple-choice questions; I noted that I was lost but not injured. Apple said that because the user may be in a distressed state, a questionnaire helps gather critical information faster. (It’s the same set of questions a 911 dispatcher asks.)

“When we tested this with dispatchers in the field, they even told us that in some situations, the answers they get from the questionnaire, along with the location of the user, might be enough for them to perform a dispatch decision, early on, and that’s huge in terms of the reduction in getting help to send field responders to the user,” said Trey Forgety, systems software engineering manager. emergency at Apple.

Nearly 20 seconds later, I received confirmation that my geolocation coordinates had been sent to a dispatcher, along with my medical ID, emergency contact details, and answers to my questions. I was told to keep answers short, which may reduce the amount of data needed to transfer to the satellite and back down to a dispatcher. I was also asked to identify nearby landmarks and where I was entering the park. My total exchange lasted about four minutes.

Apple said the text size is reduced to about a third of its original size by running it through a compression algorithm. This allows the satellite to more efficiently deliver messages to ground stations around the world. Once received, text messages 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 access to the satellite several times when I was not in clear view of the sky. A grayscale circle with a green signal image appeared when connected but turns yellow when conditions are poor and red when connectivity is lost. I walked about 200 feet from my original position to find a satellite. Once there, I held the device naturally in my hand; Apple said there’s no need to turn it up or wave it.

“Because satellites move around, the phone may sometimes need to move from one satellite to another, and there may be short intervals where no satellite is available,” Mathias said. “The phone knows this and will make it very clear to the user that there is such a discrepancy and let them know when the next satellite is available.”

When it works, the life-saving potential of such functionality is obvious. But there is a few caveats. For starters, it’s text only; users will need to physically have the device in hand to start a trade, which is not always possible in the event of an injury. The tool does, however, work with the collision detection feature of the iPhone 14 and Apple Watch, so it can automatically call emergency services or send coordinates to a dispatcher when a user is unconscious. or unable to reach their iPhone.

For now, the Satellite Emergency SOS only works in English, Spanish and French, although the splitters have professional interpreting services available for many other languages. Apple said it also might not work in all regions, such as locations above 62° latitude, including parts of northern Canada and Alaska.

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

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