Samsung Galaxy, make space for Apple Satellite: iPhone 13 wants to save your life... soon - PhoneArena

Samsung Galaxy, make space for Apple Satellite: iPhone 13 wants to save your life... soon

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iPhone 13: Out-of-this-world satellite, 5G, Wi-Fi phone that keeps you always-connected
So, let's get this out of the way: The iPhone 13 technically isn't going to be the first smartphone to feature satellite connection. This honor goes to the Thuraya X5-Touch from 2019. The X5 was an Android-powered device, which is visibly a satphone first and a smartphone second.

Not that it necessarily lacked anything that smartphones already had back in 2019… It's just that the specs were very lackluster, especially considering the flagship price of $1,150. Basically, if you were to buy it - you'd do it only for the satellite connection, which sort of defeats the purpose - you might as well buy a separate, cheaper satellite phone.

Nothing screams "no one cares" as much as the single one-star review the Thuraya X5-Touch has on Google. And there's no one to blame here. The device was advertised as a specialty phone for the Energy, Enterprise, and Government sectors. If your company is part of any of these sectors, chances are you'd go out of your way to find such a phone in case you need it. There isn't much need for anyone to pursue you to buy it.

Another "not first", but "probably the best" for Apple: iPhone 13 and iPhone 14 to connect to satellites in case of an emergency

As mentioned, the iPhone 13 isn't going to be the first smartphone capable of establishing a connection with LEO satellites. But the thing is - Apple doesn't need to be first. Time has shown that Cupertino takes its time with certain hardware and software features, but often delivers a more polished and sometimes even better experience than the competition, once the Apple version is ready. Here are a few examples:

  • Night Mode - It was Android's specialty for a while, thanks to the Huawei P20 series, but Apple's iPhone 11 delivered a fully automated Night Mode, which was easy to use and just as effective.

  • Multiple cameras - We had Android smartphones with three, four, and even five cameras on the back before Apple released the first triple-camera iPhone 11 Pro. However, to this day, the iPhone is the only smartphone that's able to switch between all three cameras / focal lengths seamlessly. The Galaxy S21 series probably comes the closest, but not close enough.

  • AirPods - Did you know that the Japanese company Onkyo launched the Onkyo W800BT in September 2015? These were the first TWS earbuds ever. Apple's AirPods came out a year later, in September 2016, to quickly become the most popular earbuds in the world. It's needless to say that Apple's take was more polished, but the success went well beyond anyone ever imagined.

  • AirTags - Apple's tight ecosystem and device integration makes AirTags the easiest tracker to locate, which is kind of the point of a tracker. The huge network of iPhones, iPads, and Macs that speak to each other to help you locate an AirTag far surpasses Samsung's one for the Galaxy SmartTag, or Tile's for the Tile.

What is a satellite phone, and why does the iPhone 13 need to be one?

Well, it looks like Apple is ready to do it again. As reported by a reliable Apple tipsters, Kuo and Mark Gurman, Tim Cook and company are ready to disrupt the market. This time with… satellites on the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14 (expected in 2022).

Satellite phones offer call and text-based communication - yes, just like the cavemen, you'd be able to call people. The service is transmitted exclusively via satellites through different networks like Globalstar, Iridium, Inmarsat, etc. For the iPhone, it's believed that Apple will be collaborating with Globalstar. We've reached out to the Globalstar for a statement on the matter, but without success.

The most common use case scenarios for satellite phones are:

  • If you like an adventure that involves climbing mountains or being out in the open ocean - perhaps even on a cruise
  • If you are in an isolated location without cell towers or Wi-Fi access
  • In emergency/crises when cell towers are affected by natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, etc.)

When it comes to the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14, satellite connectivity is expected to be limited to emergency calls. If you have an iPhone, you'd probably know there's an SOS option when you hold down the power and one of the volume buttons.

Emergency SOS on iPhone allows you to:

  • Use your iPhone to automatically text/call the local emergency number
  • Send a text to your emergency contacts with your current location
  • Holding down the power and a volume button also gives you the option to share your Medical ID

These brilliant emergency features can be an actual lifesaver. What's the problem with them? Well, they won't work if there's no coverage. You are at Everest (although there's a 5G tower available there thanks to Huawei), sailing in the Atlantic, or simply stuck in the middle of nowhere without 4G/5G or Wi-Fi?

That's where the iPhone 13's satellite connectivity comes in. According to Bloomberg, it will focus solely on emergency calls/texts, building on the existing Emergency SOS system that's already on your iPhone. There are two major features that are expected to become available on iPhone 13 and iPhone 14 in 2022:

  • The first will be called "Emergency Message via satellite, which will be integrated into the Message app (gray bubble). It will limit the characters, perhaps to prompt you to be concise and clear about your emergency. It will initially be available for texts only.

  • The second emergency feature is tailored towards crisis situations. The iPhone will ask if the emergency involves a car, boat, plane, or fire. It will also be able to get more specific. You'd also be able to report a terrorist attack or your suspicion for one.

Comparing different satellite phones and networks: Globalstar vs Iridium vs Inmarsat

Considering Apple is expected to work with Globalstar, we can focus on this provider. Globalstar's satellite constellation consists of 24 second-gen satellites, which don't exactly cover Earth in its entirety. For example, the poles will be left out, as Globalstar's satellites don't reach them. The only satellite network capable of doing so is Iridium's. This one covers the whole Earth, including the poles.

Here's a visual comparison: Globalstar's coverage isn't all that... global

Globalstar coverage

Iridium coverage

In a nutshell, Iridium's coverage is far superior, and actually "global", which is ironic. However, it's interesting to note that amongst other factors, Apple might have gone with Globalstar, because its coverage is just about good enough for the US, Europe, and Australia.

This might be a hint. Perhaps Apple's planning to make the feature exclusive to iPhones sold in some regions of the world, since for about 40% of the world's population it's literally illegal to own or use a satellite phone.

Important things to note about satellite phones: They are expensive; not all are made equal, and your provider matters!

  • The count of satellites doesn't really matter. The implementation is what makes the biggest difference. There are "static" satellites that follow Earth's orbit, so they don't really change location (Inmarsat). Therefore you might need to chase connection in case it's dropped. On the other hand, if the satellites do move like with Iridium's network - the connection is more likely to find you, instead of you having to chase it. There are pros and cons to each method.

  • Buying a satellite phone will cost you, but the satphone itself isn't even the most expensive part of the equation. Satellite phone plans are far more costly. For reference, monthly instalments for satellite phone plans vary between $35 and $100 a month.

  • The fact that you own a satellite phone and have a plan doesn't mean you won't need to pay for additional outgoing calls/texts. Prices for those are usually just over $1/min.

  • Like with cellular, different satellite phone networks aren't interchangeable. If you are on Globalstar, you won't be able to take advantage of Iridium's satellites in order to get service
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