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How to use iPhone 14’s new emergency SOS text via satellite feature

Apple on Tuesday flipped the switch to turn on Emergency SOS via satellite on all iPhone 14 models. The new feature basically amounts to text messaging with emergency responders, but instead of using a cellular or Wi-Fi network, you’re using a satellite to send messages back and forth. 

Before you can use the new feature, make sure your iPhone 14 is running the latest version of iOS 16.1 or above. 

Apple started rolling out the feature on Nov. 15, without the need for an additional app or software update. 

Once your phone has access, you’ll see a notification badge on the Settings app and an item labeled Get Help During an Emergency.

Another way to check if your iPhone 14 has the feature yet is to open the Settings app and go to Emergency SOS. Then scroll to the bottom of the page where you’ll see “Emergency SOS via satellite” and an option to try a demo (more on that in a minute). 

Also: How to record a phone call on an iPhone

Two images of Emergency SOS via satellite used on iPhone


How to use Emergency SOS via satellite

If you ever find yourself in an emergency situation and in an area with no cellular or Wi-Fi coverage, you start the process for contacting emergency services by dialing 911. The call screen on your iPhone will alert you that you don’t have coverage to place the call, and then a green message button with a red SOS sign will show up. The button says “Emergency Text via Satellite”; tap it. 

Alternatively, you can open the Messages app and start a text message thread to 911 and select “Emergency Services.”   

Next, you’ll be asked five questions about your situation that will then be shared with first responders. The first question will be what kind of emergency you are experiencing. Then, you’ll be asked who needs help and if anyone is injured, and given a list of emergency descriptions to pick from (stranded, trapped, lost, other). Finally, you’re asked if you’re on steep terrain, in water, a cave, or if none of those applies. 

SOS via satellite questions


After answering the emergency questions, you’ll be asked if you want to alert your emergency contacts. If you select yes, anyone you’ve added as an emergency contact in the Health app will receive an alert containing your location, your answers to the questionnaire, and live updates of any messages exchanged between you and emergency responders. 

The entire process is simple and streamlined, mirroring a typical text message conversation. The biggest and most important difference, however, is that you’re connected to a satellite around 850 miles above the earth. 

With that in mind, it’s important to follow the directions on your iPhone to ensure that your phone is connected to the satellite. To help you keep the line of communication open, you’ll see a radar-like circle, with the top section of it showing an area that turns green when your phone is pointed at and connected to the satellite. 

Again, when you’re sending and receiving messages, it’s critical that you keep your phone pointed in the right direction, otherwise messages won’t go through. I tried this and found sending a message could take upward of 30 to 45 seconds, maybe longer, depending on how strong a connection you have with the satellite. 

Also: iOS 16: Here’s how easy it is to edit or delete messages in the Messages app

Demo for Emergency SOS via satellite feature

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

That all sounds great, but how can I try this before I need to use it? Demo mode!

Remember that demo mode I mentioned at the start of this story? Well, it gives you a chance to try out what it’s like to send and receive messages while staying connected to a satellite. It’s a good idea to go through the demo process at least once in order to get acquainted with how it all works, and that way, should you ever need to use the feature, you’ll already be familiar. 

To access the demo, open the Settings app, select Emergency SOS from the list of options, and then scroll to the bottom of the screen where you’ll find a section for Emergency SOS via satellite. Tap Try Demo and then follow the prompts. 

You’ll be walked through how and when the feature is used and how to properly line up your phone with a satellite, and eventually you’ll be presented with a fake conversation with an emergency responder. However, the messages you send and receive while in demo mode are truly going between your phone and the satellite. 

You can send and receive messages until you feel like you’ve got a general idea of what it’s like, after which you can end the demo. 

Also: How to add your driver’s license to the Apple Wallet app (and why you should)

Use a satellite to update your Find My location

Another feature that makes use of the satellite connectivity inside the iPhone 14 lineup is updating your location in the Find My app when you’re in an area with no cellular or Wi-Fi coverage. 

Emergency SOS via satellite find my location


To update your location for friends and family members you share your location within the Find My app using a satellite, open the Find My app, select the Me tab, and then swipe up to view all of the options. There’s a section titled “My Location via satellite” that will become active once your phone lacks any sort of standard connection. 

You can use this method to update your location once every 15 minutes. Your Find My friends will see a satellite icon alongside your Find My avatar to let them know you’re in an area without any signal.

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