One of the most revolutionary mobile phone features in a long time launches today in Australia and New Zealand – Apple’s Emergency SOS via Satellite. And like several other Apple product features has the outright ability to save lives.

In it’s most simple form, the feature allows people to make contact with Emergency Services even when they are far from mobile phone coverage.

Across Australia, we have a cross-network triple-zero system, allowing a Vodafone or Optus customer who is in need of help to unknowingly use the Telstra network to make an 000 call when out of range of their usual network. However, Australia is a huge land mass, and just on 30% of it has mobile coverage, meaning you could be anywhere within the other 70% of Australia and not be able to make an SOS call.

Think about all the news stories where there have been people trapped in the bush having been injured and unable to call for help. Hikers missing for days after getting lost in the middle of no-where. And then there are the tragic cases of people in the outback stuck in the middle of no-where after their car breaks down or crashes.

Hand holding an iPhone showing the interface for Emergency SOS via Satellite

With no mobile coverage, these people are left to search for help, hope for help, or walk with no guarantee of safety.

Apple’s Emergency SOS via Satellite is a complete and utter game-changer and it’s not wrong to call it a life-saving technology.

How does Apple Emergency SOS via Satellite work?

When you dial 000 on your phone, but are outside of any mobile coverage, the call button changes to a call with SOS icon, and says “Emergency Text via Satellite”.

Emergency SOS via Satellite interface on an iPhone

Pressing that button opens a whole new interface which prompts you to “Report Emergency”.

After pressing that you are taken through a short series of questions. It sounds weird to be asking questions of someone who is in an emergency, but think of this as a short triage.

Emergency SOS via Satellite initial questions shown on the "What's the emergency?" page of an iPhone

The first five options alone present a clear picture of how diverse any emergency might be.

  • Car of Vehicle Issue
  • Sickness or Injury
  • Crime
  • Lost or Trapped
  • Fire

After each of those there are quick follow up options.

Once complete you are directed using a graphical interface to point your phone in the location of a Satellite. As Satellites move constantly, this is not a single location, it’s ever changing and might require you to move around at times to get your messages out.

Your critical information along with your location will be sent to emergency services. This is done via a Satellite SMS – this message thread appears on your screen, like any other iMessage, and you will be contacted by Emergency services to ask any additional questions. You can answer via text also. The shorter your messages the quicker they are sent.

Each time you send a message you need to point your phone to the location of a Satellite.

Once emergency services are dispatched, the chat is ended.

Can I contact my family using Emergency SOS via Satellite on Apple iPhone?

Not directly.

Firstly, if you are in an emergency you can choose to share the emergency with those emergency contacts listed in your Medical ID. These people will receive a duplicate message thread of your conversation. They can’t interact with you or emergency services, but they can see every message you send and receive.

However, for those who might be trekking, hiking or exploring on foot, on a bike or in a car in the far reaches of Australia in those areas in the 70% of Australia – you are able to share an updated real-time location using the Find My app.

If you share your location with friends or family, they will see your location update on their Find My app. There is no push alert or notification of this, but if you are a worried partner and you check the Find My app now and then, just seeing the location move will be peace of mind.

Man in black jacket stands overlooking the ocean looking at a smartphone

How much does it cost?

Apple’s Emergency SOS via Satellite is free for the next two years, with no word on what it might cost after that.

Given the competitive nature of the industry, you won’t expect this to be too expensive, but at the same time “services” revenue for companies like Apple (Subscriptions) are a booming area, so we can expect an annual subscription for this, perhaps included with Apple’s all-inclusive Apple One service.

What if I’m in a car crash?

This new way of contacting emergency services also works in conjunction with other Apple features like Fall Detection and Crash Detection. In those instances, your iPhone will alert you that it has detected a fall or crash and ask if you are seeking emergency help. If you don’t respond, it will call Triple-Zero fall you.

Emergency SOS via Satellite interface showing need to point phone at a Satellite for it to work

In the case that this happens in an area with no mobile coverage your iPhone 14 will immediately send your location and an alert to Emergency Services using Satellite to get the message out.

Will other Satellite emergency services launch on smartphones?

This is a huge area for innovation. We’ve already seen CAT phones announce a somewhat similar service on their smartphones, though it’s more of a secure peer to peer messaging app.

Earlier this year executives from Telstra and their Network provider Ericsson told EFTM about the next generation of 5G called 5G Advanced which will also utilise low-earth-orbit satellites.

So while this is groundbreaking for sure, the emergency contact space is going to see great innovation in the years ahead.

What do I need to use Emergency SOS via Satellite?

Emergency SOS via Satellite only works on iPhone 14 series phones. The iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro max.

They need to have the latest iOS 16.4

Other than that, it “just works”.