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The New iPhone 14 Has a Built-In Satellite SOS Feature. Is Garmin Worried?

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Apple’s iPhone 14 announcement last week made waves in several markets—including the outdoor industry. Among other features that aim to capitalize on a growing outdoor market, the introduction of a satellite-enabled SOS function puts the iPhone in the ring for the first time with Garmin, setting the outdoor stalwart against Apple as a potential competitor.

The question on some experts’ minds is whether the new iPhone threatens Garmin’s offerings, specifically the inReach, in the personal locator beacon market. Is Garmin worried?

No, says the company, and here’s why.

“It would be difficult to characterize a smartphone product as a true competitor to inReach, because Emergency SOS is just one of the many inReach features valued by our customers including battery life and durability,” said Chip Noble, Garmin’s senior product manager for inReach devices. “The inReach Mini 2 offers battery life of up to 30 days, for example. What’s more, Garmin inReach devices are impact resistant, so they’re built to withstand the elements. Smartphones, on the other hand, are fragile devices with screens that can shatter, rendering them useless.”

Noble said another distinction is that Garmin satellite service gives users the ability to communicate with friends and family from anywhere in the world without cell service, not just Emergency SOS and e911 dispatchers. Currently, Apple says the iPhone 14 can only communicate with its in-house emergency routing center from within the U.S. and Canada.

In 2020, Garmin purchased the International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC). Based in Montgomery, Texas, the IERCC receives all Garmin Satellite SOS notifications, as well as calls from other brands including Zoleo and Iridium Go! that contract with Garmin. Users can have direct text conversations with IERCC employees to describe their emergencies. The IERCC, open 24-7, then contacts the appropriate 911 emergency agency to coordinate rescue or extraction while staying in contact with the customer via text messaging.

How Apple’s Satellite SOS Feature Works

Details about Apple’s new SOS satellite service are still trickling out, but we know the company will release the SOS feature via an iOS 16 software update for the iPhone 14 in November. Apple says the SOS service will be free for owners for two years after purchase, but that a subscription will be needed for the service after that. Garmin’s satellite communication devices are all subscription based at purchase.

Apple will use its own in-house emergency response center and an initial questionnaire of preprogrammed tabs to understand the nature of the emergency, Apple has said. Users then may be asked to respond to additional questions via text. Emergency messages are sent in encrypted form and decrypted by Apple to be passed along to the relevant emergency services.

To initiate an SOS response, Apple users will need to tap the Emergency Text Via Satellite button on their screen, then tap the Report Emergency button. Using tabs, the user will answer questions to best describe their situation. Once connected to a satellite, Apple emergency responders receive that information as well as the user’s pre-filed medical information, emergency contact information, location, and remaining battery life. At launch, the service will support American English, American Spanish, and Canadian French, and Apple’s Emergency SOS satellite service will only be available in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but not Guam and American Samoa) and Canada.

By contrast, Garmin devices require the pressing of a protected SOS button, which initiates contact with an IERCC employee. The IERCC immediately receives the device’s location.

International travelers who visit the U.S. and Canada can use the iPhone’s new feature, unless they bought their phone in mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macao, Apple has said.

Garmin’s Final Word

While the usability and process of Apple’s satellite SOS service haven’t been tested yet in a real-world emergency, Noble said Garmin has several advantages over the Apple product.

“Garmin staffs a professionally trained 24-7 response coordination center that goes beyond ensuring an SOS is relayed to emergency dispatchers from anywhere in the world,” Noble said. “Coordinators engage correct local authorities, communicate with your emergency contacts, and keep you up to date on progress until the incident is resolved. InReach devices do not require the device to be continually aimed at a passing satellite for either messaging or declaring an SOS. InReach is also known for its two-way global messaging, where users can send custom messages to friends and family. This ability is important as a way to avoid escalation of emergencies.”

So, while the iPhone 14 may be eagerly awaited by consumers for this and other features, Garmin said it isn’t sweating it.

“Recent announcements will naturally raise awareness of the importance of staying connected while off the grid, and we feel confident that the Garmin inReach will continue to be the satellite communicator of choice for outdoor customers seeking peace of mind, best-in-class connectivity, and reliable emergency services—all in a rugged handheld device that stays charged for weeks,” Noble said.

The post The New iPhone 14 Has a Built-In Satellite SOS Feature. Is Garmin Worried? appeared first on Outside Online.

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