Apple used $450 million and 24 satellites to implement a feature you can’t use

Apple's Satellite SOS emergency contact feature became available to iPhone 14 owners in the U.S. and Canada last Tuesday. And this service will also be expanded to France, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom in December, and it is not ruled out that Apple will expand to more countries and regions.

▲ Connected to the satellite, there is hope

With the launch of this feature, Apple also released an advertisement for the related feature, as well as a press release to introduce this feature.

In the past, the advertisements for Apple's new features are generally quite creative, and you will always be satisfied after watching them.

But for satellite communications, it's less of an idea and more of a statement.

When you need help on a deserted mountain, and there is no cellular network or WiFi, take out the iPhone 14 and enable satellite SOS emergency contact, send an emergency signal to the rescue department according to the prompt on the mobile phone, and make supplements based on the returned message .

After going back and forth, the emergency department basically has a grasp of the situation and approximate location of the rescuer, and the rescuer can also prescribe the right medicine.

As for the satellite communication function that has been laid out for many years, in Apple's plan, emergency contact is the easiest function to cut into the consumption scene. In order to launch this function, Apple began to study related solutions as early as 2017.

Use 24 satellites and spend 450 million

If you want a function to be implemented smoothly, there are two things that have nothing to do, one is talent and the other is related hardware measures.

Take Apple’s core manufacturing as an example. A long time ago, Apple first recruited talents, formed a team, and then set up a research and development center in Israel. It took Apple more than ten years to make cores from quantitative changes to qualitative changes.

▲ Johny Srouji, Senior Vice President of Apple Hardware. Image from: Apple

Apple's core-making ability has been approved by everyone, and it is actually the most outstanding M chip in recent years.

In fact, the function of "satellite communication" is similar, or Apple is very good at cashing out the "brain holes" of engineers into new functions.

As early as 2014, the satellite imaging company Skybox Imaging was acquired by Google, and after being merged into Google, internal Michael Trela ​​(Michael Trela) and former aerospace engineer John Fenwick (John Fenwick) also began to lead Google's satellite and Spacecraft operations.

In 2017, they joined Apple and are still researching and exploring satellite technology. Then in 2019, Apple also began to recruit relevant software and hardware experts for them, formed a multi-person team, and began to hire executives in the aerospace and wireless transmission fields.

To put it simply, Apple believes that satellite communication is feasible and has begun to make efforts.

In fact, doing satellite-related projects is expensive and laborious, and the success rate is not high. Many related companies have often spent billions of research and development, have not found a viable commercial solution, and eventually ended in bankruptcy.

After forming a team, Apple did not rush to spend money to launch satellites and build its own network, but began to look for relevant partners.

GlobalStar, which has previously cooperated with Qualcomm, has also begun to cooperate with Apple.

In fact, in the iPhone 13, Apple has already opened up the hardware and software, and the related "satellite communication" function can be activated with just a few lines of code.

But it may be to increase the freshness and recognition of the iPhone 14 series, or it may be to better polish the satellite communication function. Apple delayed the satellite communication function for more than half a year.

Before the iPhone 14 conference, the outside world speculated that GlobalStar provided 17 satellites for Apple satellite communications.

▲ Picture from: GlobalStar

In Apple's official document last Tuesday, Apple also revised this data. In fact, Apple used a total of 24 satellites (85% of the network capacity) of GlobalStar in orbit.

When an iPhone 14 user sends a distress signal, one of the satellites receives the information and sends the information directly to GlobalStar ground stations located around the world, and a dedicated person hands over the information to the emergency service department.

In addition to using the satellite network, Apple also spent $450 million from the Advanced Manufacturing Fund to repair and strengthen some of GlobalStar's infrastructure.

▲GlobalStar ground station picture from: Apple

GlobalStar employs a team of over 300 people and also designs high powered antennas for ground stations with the help of Cobham Satcom's established satellite and radio brand.

Over the past 20 years, GlobalStar has been providing satellite services in the United States. With Apple's injection of funds to upgrade its ground station infrastructure, Apple and GlobalStar will also expand this service to the world.

Apple paid to update the equipment and increase manpower for GlobalStar, in fact, it is also to ensure that the emergency contact function of its own satellite SOS will not go wrong.

After all, according to Apple's statement at the press conference, this function is not a routine function, but an unconventional means that can save a life in an emergency.

Stability, ease of use, and reliability are more important than anything else, and Apple's promotional video for this feature didn't play any tricks, but used a straightforward narrative, which must be the case.

Regardless of whether it is practical or not, let's talk about it

Greg Joswiak, Apple's vice president of global marketing, said that the iPhone's Satellite SOS emergency contact function will be an essential tool, especially for those who like to go hiking in places off the beaten track.

In addition, in addition to optimizing the infrastructure with GlobalStar, Apple's software team also made the service "lifelike."

In iOS 16, when the emergency contact function is activated, an easy-to-use interface will appear on the iPhone. After connecting to the satellite, iOS will provide a questionnaire to classify different emergencies.

Unlike other satellite communication functions, the Apple iPhone is a two-way communication method with timely feedback. But similarly, the satellite communication function will become one of Apple's many paid services in the future.

However, it is still in the promotion stage, and there is a two-year free service period (only for the iPhone 14 series), and the detailed plan for the subsequent charging status has not yet been disclosed.

In fact, regardless of the future charging situation, as mentioned above, the current satellite-based emergency communication is not a normal function, but an emergency function under special circumstances.

Even though the follow-up charges are similar to iCloud and have different levels of packages, it is actually difficult to recover the previous high investment with subscriptions.

After Apple's high-profile intervention in the field of satellite communications, Google also stated that it will introduce support for satellite communications in Android 14 and provide developers with APIs to develop more functions.

In addition, MediaTek also stated that it will also support 5G NTN satellite direct connection on the chip. If you count the cooperation between T-Mobile and SpaceX on the satellite connection function before the release of the iPhone 14, satellite communication seems to be the next smartphone or mobile phone. Carrier's standard.

Satellite communication is generally considered to be a revolutionary technology for operators. It can bypass operators and send and receive information directly through satellites. Musk’s SpaceX Starlink is actually interested in this possible next-generation communication technology.

In addition to communication, direct satellite connection can also reduce dependence on communication operators, and can also provide more accurate location tracking, improve its own maps and many other functions.

Apple, which always likes to control many trends, functions, and features, also has many considerations in the early deployment of satellite communications.

The advantages of satellite communication are actually similar to the number of base stations of operators and whether the frequency bands are good or not. The comparison is the number of satellites and communication frequency bands.

Including Apple, SpaceX and other technology companies, satellite communication technology has just started and is in the preliminary planning stage. In addition, under the conditions of limited satellite network orbits and first-served frequency band resources, early entry can be regarded as a bet on the greater potential of future satellite communication. .

But in terms of satellite communication functions, Apple is almost the first batch of manufacturers to launch communication functions, and it also regards it as a selling point (or update point) of the iPhone 14 series, trying to create a difference and boost sales.

This is a little different from Apple, which always likes to strike late, in terms of strategy. With such a rapid introduction to the market, Apple is actually observing the market feedback of satellite communications and the status of technological changes.

After cooperating with Apple, GlobalStar left almost 85% of the satellite network capacity to Apple, and Apple became the only major customer, which also contributed to the substantial growth of GlobalStar's performance.

The satellite communication function has changed from quantitative to qualitative. GlobalStar may need more satellites and more time, but Apple may only need to directly acquire GlobalStar and integrate it into iOS.

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