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The iPhone 13’s satellite mode may only be for emergencies – report

Yesterday, Ming-Chi Kuo revealed something surprising about the iPhone 13: it will support satellite networks, meaning you could use the phone even without regular 4G or 5G signal.

Now a report from Bloomberg goes into more detail about how the feature will work and what it’s limitations will be. 

The first thing to note, according to the site, is that this is not a replacement for regular connectivity and is instead to be used in emergencies. This is probably just as well as the site says it can take up to a minute to connect, with Apple apparently creating a system that will instruct iPhone users which direction to walk in, in order to get the best possible signal.

One implementation of this – “Emergency Message via Satellite” – will send a text message to emergency services and your designated contacts. It will appear as an option when you don’t have regular reception, represented by a grey bubble, rather than the regular green (SMS) or blue (iMessage), and will limit the number of characters you can use.

It will, however, push through messages to emergency contacts even if they have Do Not Disturb mode enabled, which seems sensible if it’s a matter of life and death. It “may eventually” be able to handle “some” calls, too.

A second variation will let iPhone owners report emergencies, such as plane crashes and fires using the satellite network. It can include the iPhone owner’s location and medical ID as set up in Apple Health, and will alert the emergency services.

It will apparently not be available in every country, relying on local regulations and the location of satellites, and it’s also “unlikely to be ready before next year” – though the phones themselves could still have the “hardware needed for satellite communications.” In yesterday’s leak, Kuo said this was to be a modified version of the Qualcomm X60 modem. 

Crucially, the report says that “the features could also change or be scrapped before they’re released,” which means that this isn’t something we should expect to see Tim Cook demonstrating on stage at next month’s iPhone 13 launch, even if it eventually ends up being enabled via a future version of iOS. 

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