If you’re the type to read Apple event slogans, next week “Far Out” Event certainly feels… space-y. This has led Apple tipsters to revive theories that Apple maybe working on satellite features for emergency communications – both for iPhone and possibly rumor Apple Watch Pro. Since the Apple Watch Pro is supposed to be a competitor to Garmin, the satellite features could make it a real contender in the multisport GPS watch space.
Apple needs to do a lot to be truly competitive in this space. Autonomy of several days and build muscle sustainability are numbers 1 and 2 on the list. The competition – Garmin, Polar, Coros – can do tricks around the Apple Watch in both of these areas. But if there’s one area where Apple already leads, it’s emergency call and fall detection.
Reliable emergency communication is important and potentially lifesaving for intrepid adventurers. GPS and LTE connectivity has improved over the years, but there are still many remote areas where you cannot get a signal. Even experienced hikers, campers, and endurance athletes can get lost in these circumstances or find themselves at a dead end if they injure themselves in a cellular dead zone. That’s why many have satellite phones or Garmin inReach Devices, which are portable two-way satellite communicators that also have location sharing capabilities. These devices, however, can be bulky and add weight when athletes almost always prefer to stay light and nimble.
The problem right now is that Apple’s emergency contact features depend on LTE connectivity. This makes it more reliable in everyday situations than for outdoor enthusiasts. Likewise, Garmin has fall detection and emergency contact features on many of its smartwatches – but they also rely on your phone for signal or must be paired with an inReach device.
Right now, some high-end multisport watches do have satellite functionality. The thing is, they focus more on improving location accuracy than on emergency communication. Watches like the Garmin Fenix 7 and the Vertix 2 Choruses use dual frequency satellite communication or multiband GPS. GPS originally had two frequencies: L1 for public use and L2 for military purposes. However, there is a new frequency called L5. It’s not 100% yet, but watches that support dual-frequency satellite communication offer improved location accuracy in harsh environments. They just can’t relay that information yet unless your phone is also receiving a signal.
A smartwatch that could have both LTE and satellite connectivity for emergency communications and location sharing? It’s not hard to see why this would appeal to outdoor enthusiasts.
Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that the first iteration of the Apple Watch Pro will get satellite functionality. In his most recent To light up newsletter, Bloomberg‘s Mark Gurman noted that while Apple had internally discussed adding satellite functionality to Apple Watches, it “would make sense for a future version of the new, more rugged Apple Watch Pro.”
It’s a little disappointing, but not totally unexpected. Even though Apple is able to build hardware that supports satellite connectivity, it still has to play around with wireless carriers. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claimed the feature is over for the iPhone 13, but Apple couldn’t understand the end of the business to make it a reality.
Still, it’s a tantalizing prospect given that Apple has yet to catch up on battery life and durability by days. Of course, it also depends on the so-called Pro who does well enough to obtain a second or third iteration. But if Apple can make it work? Now this would make a lot of noise.