We tried out Apple’s new SOS tool for when you don’t have cell service

CNN Business

Apple announced a closer look at its September product launch event It will be introduced soon An emergency SOS feature Powered by a network of satellites orbiting above the Earth, Brooklyn is probably not the most reserved place to use it.

But one rainy afternoon last week, as part of a demo of an upcoming feature, I tried to consistently connect to one of the satellites from Prospect Park. I stepped out from under a large oak tree It started raining heavily. I then moved my device slightly to the right to quickly gain access to the signal and continue messaging with the emergency dispatcher.

Rain is not an issue; It was green controlling my phone A view of the sky.

On Tuesday, Apple

It will introduce Emergency SOS via Satellite feature to iPhone 14 owners in the US and Canada, with plans to roll it out UK, France, Germany and Ireland next month. The free feature promises to allow iPhone users to contact special dispatchers in emergency situations via satellites when the cellphone network is unavailable.

Mountaineers, emergency responders and intrepid travelers are familiar with the world of satellite phones that provide voice, SMS and data services anywhere on Earth. But existing satellite phones have larger antennas. Apple said it wanted to invent technology that would allow it to communicate directly with satellites within the iPhone’s form factor.

“It started with finding frequencies that worked on the iPhone and were available for use on satellites,” Arun Mathias, Apple’s vice president of wireless technologies and ecosystem, told CNN Business. “Then we made the necessary hardware changes to the iPhones, but not the bulky antennas.” Apple first developed new software that enabled the iPhone to communicate with satellites, then designed the user experience around it.

The initiative is part of a broader pitch this year to consumers whose devices not only help them live better, but also live safer. In the process, it can make its expensive products look a bit like that And essential In an uncertain economic environment there are some reinvestment costs.

Apple recently 450 million dollars invested Globalstar, a global satellite service, and other providers are supporting the development of 24 low-orbit satellites that will fly at 16,000 mph at a higher altitude than the International Space Station. The investment is part of Apple’s Advanced Manufacturing Fund, which previously used Corning for glass production and laser technology for facial recognition.

During my testing On an Apple-supplied iPhone 14, I tried to call 911, but was automatically redirected to Emergency SOS by satellite dispatchers for the purposes of the demo. When the device could not connect to cellular service, a small green icon appeared in the bottom right of the call screen to initiate a text conversation with emergency services.

I was prompted to fill out a questionnaire and tapped through a few short multiple choice questions; I noted that I was lost but not hurt. Apple said that because the user may be in a distressed state, a questionnaire helps gather important information quickly. (These are the same questions a 911 dispatcher would ask.)

“When we’ve gone out and tested this with dispatchers in the field, they’ve told us that in some situations the responses they get from the questionnaire, along with the user’s location, are good enough for them to actually dispatch. That’s huge in terms of reducing the decision early on, and the user getting help getting field responders,” said Trey Forgetti, manager of software engineering for emergency systems at Apple.

About 20 seconds later, I confirmed that my geo-location coordinates had been sent to the dispatcher, along with my medical ID, emergency contact information, and answers to my questions. I was told to keep the responses short, to reduce the amount of data needed to transfer to the satellite and back to the sender. I was also asked to identify nearby landmarks and places where I entered the park. My entire exchange lasted about four minutes.

Apple said that running it through a compression algorithm reduces the size of texts to about a third of their original size. This allows the satellite to transmit messages more efficiently to ground stations around the world. Once received, texts are forwarded to local emergency services or relayed to a relay center staffed by Apple-trained emergency specialists who can dispatch help.

But even in a city, I lost satellite access several times when I didn’t have a clear view of the sky. A grayscale circle with a green signal image is displayed Yellow when connected but turned yellow when the situation is bad and red when disconnected. I walked About 200 feet from my original location to locate the satellite. Once there, I held the device naturally in my hand; Apple said there’s no need to lift or shake it.

“As the satellites move, the phone sometimes needs to move from one satellite to another, and there may be short gaps where the satellite is unavailable,” Mathias said. “The phone knows this and will make it very clear to the user that there is such a gap and let them know when the next satellite is going to be available.”

When it works, the lifesaving potential for such a feature is obvious. But there are A few caveats. To begin with, it’s text only; Users must hold the device in their hands to initiate the transfer, which is not always possible in case of injury. However, the tool works with iPhone 14 and Apple Watch’s outage detection feature, so it can automatically dial emergency services or send coordinates to a dispatcher when a user is unconscious or can’t reach their iPhone.

For now, Emergency SOS via satellite only works in English, Spanish and French senders Professional interpreting services are available for many more languages. Apple said it won’t work in all regions, such as places above 62° latitude, including northern parts of Canada and Alaska.

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

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