Apple Messages via satellite on iOS 18: First Look

Apple Messages via satellite on iOS 18: First Look
Apple introduced SOS via satellite on the iPhone 14, and the nifty feature has become the hero of many success stories since. From canyon hikers to wildfire survivors, the feature frequently occupies headlines. And now, with iOS 18, Apple expands the satellite capabilities of its devices to include regular messaging.

Apple Messages via satellite on iOS 18: What is it?

Basically, it works like regular messaging in iMessage, but it utilizes the power of satellites orbiting the Earth. When you don't have cellular or Wi-Fi connectivity, your iPhone is still able to send messages, and now these are not just SOS messages dispatched through emergency services but regular chats with your friends in iMessage.

This feature uses Apple's end-to-end encryption as well, so your chats are safe and secure, and there are no privacy concerns when using the satellite connectivity for private messaging.

Apple Messages via satellite on iOS 18: How does it work?

When your iPhone detects that you're out of signal reach, a message will pop up on your home screen saying, "When Wi-Fi and cellular are not available, you can connect to a satellite to check for and send messages."

Taping on that pop up takes you to your satellite services, and these now include Messages in addition to Find My, Roadside Assistance, and Emergency SOS. You can do this straight from the iMessage app, too. When you launch it and there's no connectivity, a message will pop up via Dynamic Island giving you the option to "Connect to Satellite."

When you tap on this option, you're taken to the satellite connection screen, and just like with Emergency SOS, it guides you through the steps needed to establish a connection. The phone scans for the nearest satellite and makes you turn to orient yourself properly (a satellite connection works in a straight line or a line of sight, your phone needs to "see" the satellite to connect).

Once you're connected (either via the settings menu or through the Dynamic Island pop-up ffeature),you can just use iMessage like normal.

Apple Messages via satellite on iOS 18: What messages are supported?

Currently, the supported messages are SMS and your regular messages through iMessage (RCS isn't supported at the moment). It's worth noting that SMS works differently than iMessage. You can send SMS to anybody, but you can only receive SMS when connected to a satellite from your emergency contacts.

Apple says it's because there are too many spam and promotional messages coming via SMS, and there's a chance these will flood and congest the functionality.

Apple Messages via satellite on iOS 18: Supported devices

The Messages via Satellite feature comes with iOS 18, and Beta participants can already try it in the US. However, there's a hardware limitation tied to the iPhone model you own. 

The following iPhone models will be able to enjoy Messages via satellite:

Apple Messages via satellite on iOS 18: How much does it cost?

The feature is free at the moment, but some people have suggested it will morph into a paid subscription. There are theories flying around that Apple needs to monetize the satellite feature, but the company can't do it with SOS Emergency because it would be a massive PR scandal if someone got hurt because they didn't renew their SOS subscription.

That being said, the future is completely free, and the above are pure speculations. You can try if you're in the Beta program and have an iPhone 14 or newer. Here's how to enroll in Apple's Beta testing program.

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