As Apple fans eagerly decipher the invitation to next week’s iPhone 14 launch event, the “Far Out” tagline in particular has come under scrutiny. Does it refer to a new astrophotography mode, or does it suggest that something really unexpected or planned for the very long term will be announced? Or could it instead have something to do with the company’s long-trumped-up satellite communications project?
Mark Gurman certainly has time for the latter theory and spends much of his latest Power On newsletter discussing the possibilities of satellite technology for the next generation of Apple products. The iPhone 14 handsets, he thinks, could be able to contact emergency services via satellite even if cellular reception isn’t available, whether that’s to send an SOS message for yourself or to report an accident to others. And the Apple Watch could get the same upgrade, albeit likely in a future version of the Apple Watch Pro rather than the one expected to launch on September 7, Gurman predicts.
In the longer term, Apple could become even more ambitious. “Ultimately, users could have global Internet access and make regular calls over satellite connections,” Gurman writes. “The combination of fast 5G networks and satellite service could one day turn the iPhone into the most powerful global communications device available.” But for now, the focus is only on emergencies.
The remarkable thing about this feature, according to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo this week, is that the technical possibilities have been present for a long time. They just weren’t implemented in the iPhone 13 because Apple couldn’t reach an agreement with carriers.
“I found out that Apple had already completed the hardware development of satellite communications in the iPhone 13,” Kuo writes. “The lack of support is because the business model was not negotiated.”
It will have been challenging for Apple to agree on a business model with carriers due to the number of elements to negotiate and the unusual complications of the deal, as The Verge points out. For starters, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon are all trying in different ways to set up their own satellite services, meaning they can see Apple’s project as a competitor; on the other hand, the extra-national nature of satellite coverage means the company must negotiate internationally, likely with both governments and airlines.
In more prosaic terms, it’s not immediately clear how Apple plans to handle the payments side of things. Does the iPhone owner pay for satellite messaging, and if so, does he pay the carrier, the satellite operator, or Apple itself?
Despite Apple taking at least a year to fix these issues, it’s far from clear that Apple has done so in time for the iPhone 14 launch. Both Kuo (“Hard to predict when the iPhone will offer satellite communications service, but I believe this will eventually happen”) as Gurman (“It’s not clear if Apple will indeed launch this kind of functionality on September 7 or if the features are more far away“) seem fairly confident that the feature is on its way, but are reluctant to commit to a time frame. As Gurman points out, it seems to fit the event’s tagline well, but Apple likes to fuel speculation with vague hints; there are other explanations for that line, and the ambiguity may be intentional.
However, there is not long to wait now. The truth will be revealed at Apple’s special event on September 7, and all announcements will be reported and analyzed here at Macworld. Check out our regularly updated iPhone 14 guide for the latest rumors leading up to the event.