Why Experts Worry About The iPhone 14’s Satellite Feature

Apple advertises fallback satellite connectivity capabilities for its new iPhone 14, but wildlife rescue experts say the new feature could get some users into trouble.

The new iPhones allow you to send short messages from distant places where cellular service is not available. Apple says the satellite function is among “important new security features that we hope you’ll never need.” However, experts say this feature can also give adventurers a false sense of security.

“There will always be a group of beginners or untrained participants in outdoor recreation who mistakenly trust technology as a safety net that they don’t really understand,” Christopher Boyer, executive director of the National Association for Search and Rescue, told Digital Trends in an interview. “There will also be others who abuse technology out of ignorance, power, or negative intent.”

Lost and Found?

Apple says the Emergency SOS feature, coming in November, can help you connect to emergency services when out of cellular and Wi-Fi coverage. The company cautions that under ideal conditions, sending a message can take 15 seconds, while sending a message under trees with light to medium foliage can take more than a minute. If you are under dense vegetation or surrounded by other obstacles, it may not be possible to connect to the satellite at all.

Jones noted that the satellites worked on connections in sight. If you are in a forest, cave, canyon, or anywhere in northern Canada or Alaska, you may not be able to make contact with the satellite.

We present Emergency SOS via satellite | Apple

“Read and understand the limitations of satellite communication or the satellite function is useless,” said Boyer. “Don’t rely fully on satellite services; make sure you have many redundant ways to communicate or receive alerts, such as two-way radios. ”

Bruce Jones, an emergency preparedness expert at Midland Radio that produces two-way communications and weather alert / emergency technologies, warned in an interview with Digital Trends that “cell phone users will need to understand that this feature will not be effective in 100% of the time. Use responsibly is my advice. ”

Apple did not respond to Digital Trends’ request for comment.

This is not a free pass for risky behavior

The iPhone 14 lying on the table.
Joe Maring / digital trends

Emergency services often deal with emergency calls from people who ignored published or broadcast alerts, got into trouble, and called for rescue, Jones said. Some towns and counties charge you for expensive helicopter costs if you need a rescue because of your own choices. “Satellite SOS is not a pass for risky behavior,” he added.

The debate about whether more technology leads to more risky behavior has been going on for decades. Mountaineers say devices such as satellite lifeboat beacons that can alert and guide rescuers to affected adventurers are a crutch that can lead inexperienced hikers into situations for which they are not prepared.

There is no doubt that satellite devices save lives. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA0 reported that since its inception in 1982, its satellites have been credited with supporting more than 48,000 rescue operations worldwide.

In one of the most recent episodes, Alaska Air National Guardsman rescued an injured tourist approximately 50 miles northeast of Anchorage. A tourist asked for help using a satellite communication device. “This rescue once again proved the usefulness of the device for two-way satellite communication when entering the Alaskan desert, where there is no standard cellular service” – Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Hamilton said in a press release.

Satellite lifeguards

Communication satellite in orbit around the Earth.

Many wildlife experts say the iPhone 14’s satellite capabilities can be a useful tool if used with caution. Ryan B. Carlson, executive director of the Wilderness Education Association, said the possibility that satellite communications could lead to overconfidence was no reason not to buy a new iPhone.

“The answer is to better equip and educate users about security best practices,” he said in an interview. “To increase recreational competence, we need to increase access to training and education to make good decisions in the backcountry. A day of study and training is incredibly affordable compared to the cost of a rescue operation, especially in a remote area. ”

Jones agreed, saying that “everyone needs multiple, redundant means of receiving and transmitting emergency information. Incoming severe weather alerts and outgoing calls for help have the potential to save lives. Satellite is another tool that can be included in the preparation kit, alongside two-way radios ”.

Not all satellite communications are created equally

Spot X held against the backdrop of the mountains.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

Harding Bush, a former Navy SEAL and security operations manager for Global Rescue, said in an interview that backcountry enthusiasts should not replace other satellite messaging devices with an iPhone 14. that the satellite messenger can send SMS and email to anyone – not just the local 911 municipal emergency service.

“Satellite messaging devices typically have a tracking feature whereby the user can send a message to specific recipients, and the recipient can track the movement and location of the sender using map graphics that include the sender’s location, geographic coordinates, direction, and travel speed,” he added.

But Bush said having both cellular and satellite connectivity on one device is a huge technological breakthrough. Users will be safe as they can always contact the emergency services.

A huge step forward – to some extent

Someone puts the iPhone 14 to their ear.
Joe Maring / digital trends

“As smartphone satellite functions expand, there may come a time when they eclipse the capabilities and functions of satellite messaging and tracking devices and satellite phones,” Bush said. “But until then, satellite messaging and tracking devices should be the standard communication device for those who are beyond the reach of cellular phones.”

Boyer warned you shouldn’t go backcountry with an iPhone 14 and hope for an emergency rescue. You should be trained to use the map and compass and carry them with you. Also let someone know where you are going and when you will be back.

“They should have had the necessary elements required by this environment to be safe and survive,” he added. “They should have received first aid training and retained all the perishable outdoor skills they needed. Once lost, they should stay where they are and try to signal help. ”

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