iOS 18’s Satellite Messaging Is a Game Changer | Lifehacker

With the iPhone 14, Apple introduced a new way to communicate: Emergency SOS via Satellite. With it, you can reach out to emergency services even when you have no signal. The feature guides you on how to connect your iPhone to the nearest satellite overhead, and once connected, allows you to contact help (albeit, much more limited and slowly than usual).

It’s a fantastic safety feature, both for those who frequent areas of low cellular coverage, as well as in emergencies when cell service is unavailable. But that latter point is really the main downside of the feature: It’s only available for emergencies. If you don’t have any service and you’re perfectly safe, you can’t use the feature to simply send a message to a friend or family member to check in. Unless you want to get the police involved in your update, you’ll just have to wait until you’re back within range of a cell signal or wifi.

Messages via satellite

That changes with iOS 18: Apple’s upcoming OS (currently in beta testing) includes an update to its satellite communications feature. When it drops, you’ll be able to send, via satellite, any message, not just emergency ones. So, when you happen to be totally without service, not only can you send an update letting people you’re okay, you can keep up with your chats as you normally would.

When it comes to iMessage, almost nothing about the experience is compromised. You’ll be able to send and receive messages, emojis, and Tapbacks (the reactions such as “thumbs up” or “Ha Ha”). Plus, all of your messages are still end-to-end encrypted, so there’s no security breach using satellites for relaying your messages vs. cell towers or the internet. You don’t need to do anything special to trigger the feature, either: Once your iPhone loses a network connection, and switches to “SOS only,” you’ll see a notification on the Lock Screen inviting you to message via satellite. You don’t even need to tap this alert, though. Just start typing a message, and if there’s no service, your iPhone will send it via satellite automatically.

You’ll know this is happening, because there will be a “Satellite” tag next to the “iMessage” tag in the text field in your thread. You might also be clued in because some messages may take quite a while to send and receive, as they’re beaming up to a satellite first before being routed to their destination. As with Emergency SOS via Satellite, iOS will guide you on angling your iPhone towards the nearest satellite overhead. You’ll need a clear view of the sky, with few (if any) tall obstructions, including trees and buildings. Assuming conditions are correct, however, you’ll be able to message away.

iMessages will come in automatically, even over satellite, so while you might not keep up with the messages as quickly as you normally would, they’ll all eventually arrive. However, SMS texts will only work if you initiate the conversation: If an Android friend texts you while you’re out of service, for example, you won’t receive it. But if you send a message, you’ll receive their direct response.

Unfortunately, the feature doesn’t support RCS, the texting protocol iOS 18 is finally adopting. While mildly disappointing, the feature itself is so cool I can completely overlook RCS’ omission. Lack of service is no longer a hindrance to missing out on communications. You won’t drive through a remote road and receive a barrage of missed iMessages once you reconnect to service: Those messages will still appear on your iPhone as they were sent. You can take a trip somewhere without internet and still be able to give updates to people about your experience.

Of course, if you’re the kind of person that enjoys these little breaks from society, there’s always the foolproof solution: turning off your iPhone altogether.