Apple’s space plans may extend beyond emergencies, a new patent suggests

The Emergency SOS feature via satellite was rolled out in four new countries yesterday, but a patent awarded the same day suggests Apple’s plans for satellite may extend beyond just getting help in an emergency.

While the emergency service is limited to text communications, an Apple patent describes how it can use satellite communications for voice, video, and more…


Emergency SOS via satellite was a key feature of Apple’s event in September — so much so far The name of the event indicated it. Here’s how Apple describes it:

If the user is unable to access emergency services due to lack of cellular coverage or Wi-Fi, an easy-to-use interface appears on the iPhone to assist the user in using the satellite connection. A short questionnaire appears to help the user answer vital questions with a few simple clicks, which is sent to the senders in the initial message, to ensure that they can quickly understand the user’s situation and location. […]

After the survey, the intuitive interface directs the user where to point their iPhone to connect and send the initial message. This message includes the user’s responses to the survey; location, including altitude; iPhone battery level; and Medical ID, if enabled. The questionnaire and follow-up messages are transmitted directly via satellite to senders who accept text messages, or to relay centers staffed by trained Apple professionals who can request assistance on the user’s behalf. The text can also be shared with the user’s emergency contacts to keep them informed.

The service launched in the US and Canada last month, and was extended yesterday to the UK, France, Germany and Ireland. More countries will follow.

Apple’s space plans may go much further

A patent granted the same day the service expanded to more countries suggests that Apple’s plans for the satellite may extend beyond text, beyond emergency use. Obviously apples Spotted:

Satellite communications data transmitted by the No. 28 transceivers and No. 30 antenna radiators may include media data (eg, streaming video, television data, satellite radio data, etc.), audio data (eg, voice data phone), internet data, and/or any other required data.

Apple is currently setting aside $450 million to support the satellite communications feature, which is a reasonably large amount of money even by Apple’s standards for a service that will be useful to a fraction of iPhone owners. But if this is the start of something else, the investment may seem rather modest.

Of course, Apple’s usual patent disclaimer applies: The company is patenting more ways than ever before that finds its way into actual products and services. But as satellite communications evolve from the bevy of adventurers and yacht owners to regular internet users, I can certainly see meaning in a company investing in the technology.

Is Apple playing the long game here, aiming to offer broader satellite services to iPhone users? Please share your thoughts via your comments.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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