Elon Musk claims SpaceX was in talks with Apple on iPhone 14 satellite services
Apple went with Globalstar for Emergency SOS feature, but such comments suggest a direction of travel
Following the debut of the iPhone 14 this week, Elon Musk has claimed that Apple had been locked in talks with SpaceX about the new handset's satellite capabilities.
Responding to a wishful tech fan wondering whether the gadget giant would hook up with SpaceX's Starlink for the Emergency SOS feature, which calls for help where there's no signal, Musk said on Twitter:
We've had some promising conversations with Apple about Starlink connectivity. iPhone team is obv super smart.For sure, closing link from space to phone will work best if phone software & hardware adapt to space-based signals vs Starlink purely emulating cell tower.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 8, 2022
Clearly there was some sort of technical hurdle there as Apple has gone with Globalstar to provide the service – and there's only so much you can do in terms of software when many Starlink satellites are already up in orbit.
The new iPhone feature only talks to satellites for the purposes of contacting emergency services where there is no coverage, such as an injured climber on a remote mountainside.
Apple has enabled iPhone 14 antennas to connect to orbiting satellites, assisted by software to help users aim their handsets at the void. This capability, said to take less than 15 seconds to send a message to a contact center to call for emergency help for the stricken user, launches in November in the US and Canada. It's said it will be free for the first two years.
- Apple co-founder Steve Jobs memorialized with online archive of emails, guff
- Apple debuts iPhone 14, Watch 8, other sparkly things
- T-Mobile US and SpaceX hope to deliver phone service from space
- After suffering $1b subsidy snub, Starlink lands $2m US Air Force deal
But Musk's "promising conversations" could point to a more fleshed-out satellite phone offering in the future.
SpaceX and T-Mobile already announced a similar partnership last month, named "Coverage Above and Beyond," which actually allows users to communicate with each other. The aim is to combine T-Mobile US's terrestrial wireless network with the Starlink low-Earth orbit satellite constellation to support text messaging "practically everywhere in the continental US," plus Hawaii, parts of Alaska, Puerto Rico, and US territorial waters in the next year or so.
The companies claimed that "no modifications are required to the cellphone everyone has in their pocket today, and no new firmware, software updates, or apps are needed."
However, as a Gartner analyst told The Register following the T-Mobile announcement, SpaceX satellites are not currently capable of delivering the service and the company has no authorization to deploy its larger v2 birds.
But if Musk is to be taken at his word – admittedly not the wisest thing to do – Apple and SpaceX must have some knowledge of each other's hardware capabilities and may be able to work toward some form of global smartphone coverage further down the line.
Starlink is able to beam down extremely powerful internet services to subscribers from orbit today, and soon we'll have satellite-powered emergency contact and text messages from anywhere. Perhaps one day this will extend to fuller phone services anywhere on Earth. ®