First Look: Emergency SOS via Satellite on iPhone 14

I’m an avid hiker and enjoy spending time exploring the northwest hills of New Jersey not far from my home. Luckily, in the many years I’ve traversed those rooted and rocky trails, I’ve never been injured, nor have I encountered anyone who needed help along the way. But we all take risks every time we walk out the front door, and that includes our excursions into more remote parts of the country where modern necessities such as cellular coverage aren’t always available.

If there’s one thing to know about any emergency, it’s that communications are critical for the best possible outcome. This is part of the idea behind Apple’s new Emergency SOS via satellite service, a feature exclusive to its latest iPhone 14 family of smartphones. The basic idea is to make it possible to get help when it’s needed the most.

Apple recently gave PCMag early access to the service to conduct a test run in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park ahead of its launch today. This is what we experienced.


SOS 101: How Emergency SOS via Satellite Works

Emergency SOS via satellite is meant for true emergencies, when life and limb are at risk. It launches in the US and Canada today and will reach France, Germany, Ireland, and the UK next month. It only works where there is no other wireless coverage available to your iPhone 14. That means no cellular coverage and no Wi-Fi.

(Credit: Apple)

Dialing 911 should always be the first step, as wireless networks prioritize emergency calls and if there’s the faintest sliver of a connection available—even when the phone shows no coverage—it’s possible the call will find a way through. More importantly, the iPhone 14 needs a failed 911 call to trigger the Emergency SOS via satellite dialog box. Once you have a failed 911 call, you’ll see a new “emergency text via satellite” option appear in the phone app. Press that to kick off your emergency call.

To be clear, you’re not actually making a phone call—you don’t have sat-phone service with the iPhone 14. The Emergency SOS via satellite feature is run entirely by text message. The app walks you through a series of questions such as whether you are lost, what your injury is, and what landmarks are nearby that might help responders locate you more easily. You can include details about your medical conditions, as well as attach your medical ID if you’ve created one on your iPhone, and even choose to notify your emergency contacts so they can follow along. After you’ve completed this initial series of steps, which are as easy as tapping some options on the screen, the phone helps you find a satellite.

Apple Emergency SOS via Satellite text dialog

(Credit: Eric Zeman)

You need a fairly open view of the sky. That means you need to be away from trees or structures, hills or mountains, and other tall objects that may stand in between you and any potential satellites. A line-of-sight connection to the satellite is necessary. The iPhone will guide you, telling you to turn left or right to find the satellite. This process is not instantaneous but is fairly intuitive. Once the iPhone finds and connects to a satellite, it will automatically send the text message you’ve created.

Emergency SOS via Satellite seeking satellite

(Credit: Eric Zeman)

Where does that message go? One of two seats. The emergency text will go to the nearest (or most appropriate) emergency services department that accepts 911 calls via text. Not all 911 call centers accept emergency text messages yet.

If the text does not go through directly, it is routed to a Relay Center. Such centers are staffed by trained specialists composed of Apple employees and third parties who ensure that 911 text messages are connected to the appropriate authorities. Your entire experience with the service on the iPhone 14 will be via text message.

Apple Emergency SOS via Satellite text dialog

(Credit: Eric Zeman)

The messages do take some time to send, so don’t expect instantaneous communications. Outgoing messages can take 15 seconds or more to push through when connected to a satellite.

You will receive a response when the message has been accepted and routed to an emergency responder. That response may include follow-up questions pertaining to your injury, location, landmarks, phone battery life, and more. This message dialog box remains active throughout the duration of your emergency and you can continue to provide updates as needed to facilitate a rescue.

Apple Emergency SOS via Satellite dialog box

(Credit: Eric Zeman)

One thing to keep in mind: Satellites move really fast. The satellites being used for this service can run from horizon to horizon in as little as 15 minutes. This means you may lose your connection and be forced to search out a new satellite when one comes into view. In fact, while testing the service one satellite passed out of view and we were guided to connect to a new one. The process isn’t any more difficult than rotating yourself about 180 degrees. Don’t worry about losing the connection for a moment, as it won’t interrupt your communications with emergency services.


Apple is making a couple of other tools available along with the launch of Emergency SOS via satellite. The first allows you to make a test run of the service. Tapping the Emergency SOS option in the iPhone Settings menu calls up the test, which walks you through the process of making an emergency call/text—without actually placing the call. The basic idea here is to let iPhone 14 owners familiarize themselves with the service ahead of any potential emergencies, which might help speed up the process when needed.

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Apple Emergency SOS via Satellite send location

(Credit: Eric Zeman)

The third tool allows you to send your location to your emergency contacts using the Find My app. You can take advantage of the “send location via satellite” feature, which will push your location in longitude and latitude to whichever contacts you choose. This can be used when you are lost to help searchers pinpoint you, or to serve as a simple “here I am” type tool when you know you’ll be off the grid for a while.

Emergency SOS via Satellite send location via Find My

(Credit: Eric Zeman)


Putting Emergency SOS to the Test

In our quick hands-on with these emergency tools, we found that they do work. They are direct and simple to use, though the slow nature of the satellite response times can be a challenge when you’re under the harshness of an emergency.

Of course, every emergency is unique. Some injuries may not allow you to move to find a good signal. The key here is to keep trying. Even if you can’t connect to a given satellite when it is low in the sky, it may only be a matter of waiting for it to pass directly overhead to connect. Other emergencies might prevent you from typing. In those instances, such as if your hand is injured, using voice-assisted typing may be necessary.

Surely these new features will impact the lives of outdoor adventurers sooner rather than later. They aren’t a perfect solution, but in matters of life and death, even a few text messages may be all that’s needed.

Apple will enable Emergency SOS via satellite for the iPhone 14 family automatically later today. No software update is required.

For more, see our reviews of the iPhone 14 family, including the iPhone 14tea iPhone 14 Plustea iPhone 14 Proand the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

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