As Apple fans eagerly decipher the invitation for next week’s iPhone 14 launch event, the “Far Out” tagline in particular has come under intense scrutiny. Does it refer to a new astrophotography mode, or suggest that something truly unexpected or planned for the very long term will be announced? Or could it, instead, have something to do with the company’s long-rumored satellite communications project?
Mark Gurman certainly has time for the latter theory, spending much of his latest Power On newsletter discussing the possibilities for satellite tech on the next generation of Apple products. The iPhone 14 handsets could, he reckons, be capable of contacting emergency services via satellite even when no cellular reception is available, whether that’s to send an SOS message for yourself or to report an accident affecting 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 get even more ambitious. “Ultimately, users could have global internet access and be able to make regular phone calls over satellite links,” Gurman writes. “The combination of speedy 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 on emergency situations only.
The odd thing about this feature, according to the analyst Ming-Chi Kuo this week, is that the technical capabilities have been in place for a long time. They just weren’t implemented in the iPhone 13 because Apple wasn’t able to reach an agreement with carriers.
“I learned that Apple had already completed the hardware development of satellite communication in the iPhone 13,” Kuo writes. “The lack of support is because the business model had not been negotiated.”
Agreeing a business model with carriers will have been a challenge for Apple because of the number of elements to negotiate and the arrangement’s unusual complications, as The Verge observes. For one thing, T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon are all in various ways trying to set up satellite services of their own, which means they may see Apple’s project as a competitor; for another, the extranational nature of satellite coverage means the company would need to negotiate internationally, likely dealing with governments as well as carriers.
In more prosaic terms, it’s not immediately clear how Apple plans to handle the payment side of things. Does the iPhone owner pay for satellite messages, and if so, do they pay the carrier, the satellite operator, or Apple itself?
Despite having at least a year to resolve these difficulties, it’s far from clear that Apple has done so in time for the iPhone 14 launch. Both Kuo (“Hard to predict precisely when the iPhone will offer satellite communication service, but I believe it will happen eventually”) and Gurman (“It’s not clear if Apple will indeed launch this kind of functionality on Sept. 7 or if the features are more far out“) seem reasonably sure that the feature is on the way, but are reluctant to commit to a timeframe. As Gurman notes, it does seem to fit neatly with the event’s tagline, but Apple loves to feed speculation with vague hints; there are other explanations for that line, and the ambiguity could be deliberate.
Still, there’s not long to wait now. The truth will be revealed at Apple’s special event on September 7, and all the announcements will be reported and analyzed right here on Macworld. For the latest rumors leading right up to the event, check our regularly updated iPhone 14 guide.