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Apple will let you send text messages via satellites in space later this year

Apple (AAPL) Intelligence might have stolen the show at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference this week, but another announcement during the show could literally help you stay in touch with friends and family while off the grid or camping when you don’t have cell service.

Messages via satellite is a new feature for the iPhone 14 and iPhone 15 coming in iOS 18 that will allow you to send iMessages, you guessed it, via satellite. Apple already offers its Emergency SOS via satellite service, but that’s more geared to serious situations like when a user is lost in the wilderness or in some other kind of danger. Emergency SOS via satellite requires users to answer brief prompts about their particular situation, which Apple can then route to the appropriate authorities.

Unlike Emergency SOS via satellite, Messages via satellite allows you to send standard iMessages to friends and family who use iPhones, as well as SMS messages to Android users. I joined Apple’s senior director of platform product marketing for iOS, iPadOS, and macOS, Kurt Knight, for a brief demo of the new feature and its capabilities.

Standing outside in the sweltering California heat, Knight showed me how the process of sending texts via satellite works using an iPhone without either a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. From your phone’s lock screen, you’ll get a notification saying that you can send and check for messages via satellite when your iPhone detects you don’t have a cellular or Wi-Fi signal.

Apple's Messages via satellite will let you send texts to friends and family even when you're off the grid. (Image: Apple)
Apple's Messages via satellite will let you send texts to friends and family even when you're off the grid. (Apple) (Apple)

Tap the notification and you’ll be brought to a screen showing your location on a map and indicating whether there is a satellite nearby overhead. Below that are options to send messages, call for roadside assistance, use the Find My app, or use Emergency SOS via satellite.


You can also launch Messages via satellite by opening up the Messages app on your phone when disconnected from cellular or Wi-Fi. While using the app, you’ll get a pop-up in your iPhone’s Dynamic Island showing your relative position to the closest satellite. Move too far to the left or right, and the pop-up will tell you to get back in the right position to communicate with the satellite.

You won’t be able to use the feature indoors or under heavy tree cover, since it requires a clear line of sight between the satellite and your iPhone, but it does work surprisingly quickly. During the demo, Knight was able to send both text and an emoji via iMessage, as well as one of Apple’s Tapback message replies.

The Messages app will alert you each time you send or receive a text via satellite by adding a small note above your message’s timestamp. The idea is to ensure you and the person you’re texting are both aware that you’re communicating via satellite and that responses might not be as fast as they would over cellular or Wi-Fi signals.

Don’t expect to send videos or photos over satellite, though. Apple says it was able to make sending normal texts possible because it was able to compress them to a size that made them easier to send back and forth to satellites. Photos and videos are just too big at this point.

As for how to use Messages via satellite, you’ll need an iPhone 14 or newer and access to iOS 18 when it comes out later this fall. Apple hasn’t said when or what it will charge for the service yet. The company initially offered iPhone 14 users a year of service for free, but then extended that for another year in 2023. IPhone 15 owners received a free year of service when they purchased their phones as well. Apple has yet to announce what will happen when those terms are up.

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Email Daniel Howley at Follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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