iPhone 14 SOS and tracking v Garmin inReach, Zoleo and Spot Outdoor trackers
iPhone 14 SOS and tracking – for the Outdoor enthusiast going off grid – How good is it and how does it compare to the other satellite communicators currently on the market.
In mid-September 2022 at the launch of the iPhone 14 the world was introduces to the function of sending a SOS signal via satellites from your iPhone in the very near future.
Initially this was just going to be in the US, but on the 13th December 2022 this was also rolled out for UK users, at the same time it was rolled out for France, Germany and Ireland.
So, the big question must be, it this a replacement for those using a current outdoor satellite communicator, such as a Spot, Garmin inReach or Zoleo user?
This is the question we are going to look at, both for those wanting to share their location when off grid and those who really need help in a true SOS situation.
Satellite systems for communication – Spot, Garmin inReach and Zoleo
The Spot one-way satellite communicator currently uses the Low orbit Globalstar network whilst the Garmin inReach and Zoleo use the higher orbit Iridium system.
What is the main difference between Iridium and Globalstar?
The main difference between Iridium and Globalstar is the relaying mechanism. Iridium requires relaying between satellites. Globalstar requires relaying between satellites and earth stations.
Globalstar also does not cover full coverage of the world, but it has been utilised very well by the Spot outdoor communicators in the past, but Globalstar getting a massive cash injection from Apple will this change, I most certainly think it will.
In the past the Iridium Satellite network, used by both Garmin inReach devices and Zoleo have always been portrayed at the ‘premium service’, as this is more likely the network used my Sat Phones looking for the bandwidth and stability needed for making a voice call.
But, this ‘premium service’ does come at a cost, I often do ponder the thought is it the extra cost that has made us think this way.
Satellite systems for communication – iPhone 14
Apple is working with the satellite company Globalstar to offer the service, using Globalstar’s Band 53 spectrum.
According to Reuters, Apple will pay for 95% of the approved capital expenditure for the new satellites needed to support the service.
In the world we are in I have heard the phrase ‘Apple have literally bought Globalstar out’, but with Apple being the 6th richest company in the world in 2022, why not?
The reality is Apple have brought the capital to Globalstar to really lift the company to the place it needs to be to support Apple users going forward.
Live tracking whilst off grid - Spot, Garmin inReach and Zoleo
This is where the standalone satellite communicator (two way in Garmin’s and Zoleo’s case) really comes to the fore.
As they have been made for the outdoor enthusiast in mind, they have a quick and easy way to for people to track you whilst off grid.
All these devices have, in some shape and form, a page where friends and family can track you on a map of the world (this can be password protected if need be).
But, this does come at a price, to full utlise this facility with the Garmin inReach and Zoleo products you do have to pay for a package which includes this, as the pay as you go option for the live tracking service does prove very expensive (10p/ track point).
But for the true outdoor enthusiast this really does add that extra level of security.
Live tracking whilst off grid - iPhone 14
For the iPhone 14 use they can share their location via satellites with Find My.
In the Find My app, users can open the Me tab, swipe up to see My Location via Satellite, and tap Send My Location.
The satellite connection on the iPhone 14 also works with other safety features available on iPhone and Apple Watch, including crash detection and fall detection, but in a recent article on 9to5mac, it looks like ‘Some first responders are asking iPhone users to disable Emergency SOS and crash detection due to influx of false positives’.
Non-emergency messages whilst off grid
This is where the Spot, Garmin inReach and Zoleo does stand head and shoulders above the iPhone 14, but again it should do as this is the service you are paying for with these products.
With the Spot, the cheaper option (both product and contracts) you are limited to pre-set messages, and these are only one way i.e. you don’t get a reply, but with the Garmin inReach products and Zoleo you can message away, which is made easier with them being paired to your mobile phone which is a little ironic.
Raising a SOS
It’s a fairly simple process to make a SOS call on each of the devices.
Raising a SOS on an Apple iPhone 14
What happens when you press a SOS on a Spot, Garmin inReach or Zoleo?
Once you press the SOS button on any of these products the signal goes to the Garmin IERCC centre (Garmin InReach Emergency Response Coordination Centre), it’s interesting that this is owned by Garmin but both Spot and Zoleo users also use the same facility
What happens when you press a SOS on an iPhone 14?
Once you have activated the SOS on the iPhone 14 it sends a message via the satellites back to the ground and then it is channelled through the local emergency responders to you i.e. the nearest 999 operator if you are in the UK.
If you are outside the UK or it ends up at an emergency responder centre that does not receive emergency text messages these messages are routed through one of Apples Emergency relay centres. Apple have over 300 members of staff in these call centres and they will also deal with those requests that it may be unsure who the emergency messages should be routed to.
Contract costs - Spot, Garmin inReach and Zoleo
The Spot comes in at a very reasonable 11.95/ month (contract details here) on a 12 month contract with the Garmin and Zoleo starting in the region of £14.99/ month for Garmin (Garmin contract details here) and £18.00/ month for Zoleo (Zoleo contract details here), but if you are wanting the live tracking you can add a simple £4.50/ month to enable this.
Here are a couple of videos looking at both the Garmin inReach and Zoleo plan options
Garmin inReach Contracts Explained
Contract costs – iPhone 14
The service is free for two years starting at the time of activation of a new iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max, but off course you will be paying already to your carrier for your mobile phone contract.
But as the majority of us already have a mobile phone contract already the features laid out above are truly free a great addition.
Will there be a charge for this service after the initial few years? Only time will tell.
SOS for the mass market
With the advent of SOS on the iPhone 14 it will be interesting to see how the emergency services manage with SOS for the mass market, will they be able to respond the natural increase in people requesting help whilst off grid.
If you are a series outdoor enthusiast who truly wants true two-way satellite communication whilst off grid you have to go for one of the Garmin inReach devices or Zoleo is certainly the way go.
The extra functionality is certainly worth the money.
But if you don’t want the ongoing subscription costs and just the Emergency SOS function and you have an iPhone 14 it is something to be aware off. With it very much being in it’s infancy we have not seen any ‘true-life’ tales to date on how it has been responded to in the UK, but am sure these will not be far awar.