First Look at Messages via Satellite in iOS 18

Apple has been gradually expanding its suite of satellite connectivity features for iPhone, and iOS 18 brings a significant new one in the form of Messages via satellite. The feature allows users to send and receive iMessages and SMS texts, including emoji and Tapbacks, while out of range of cellular and Wi-Fi networks.


CNET met up with Apple's senior director of platform product marketing, Kurt Knight, this week for an early first look at how the feature works, while iJustine offered a similar walkthrough of it.

When your phone detects it's out of range of terrestrial networks, you'll get a pop-up alert that offers quick access to all of the available satellite-enabled services including Emergency SOS, Roadside Assistance, Find My, and now Messages.

Messages via satellite can also be accessed directly from the Messages app when off the terrestrial grid, with iOS popping up a card to help you point your ‌iPhone‌ toward an available satellite. From there, it works just as a normal Messages conversation does, and you're able to send and receive messages, emoji, and Tapbacks. Conversation messages sent via iMessage are also end-to-end encrypted when sent via satellite.


iMessages can be sent freely back and forth via satellite, but there are limitations on SMS due to the volume of promotional and automated messages that come through that protocol. Your emergency contacts and specified family members will be able to contact you via SMS at any time, but for all other contacts, you will need to send the first SMS message via satellite, which will then allow them to respond for a period of time.

Notably, despite Rich Communication Services (RCS) support coming in ‌iOS 18‌ later this year, Messages via satellite will not initially work with ‌RCS‌. Knight says the ‌RCS‌ protocol has not yet been optimized to a small enough size to work over a satellite connection, at least as far as Apple is concerned.

As with Apple's other satellite services, Messages via satellite will launch initially only in the United States with ‌iOS 18‌ before later expanding to other countries. Apple's satellite services work on iPhone 14 and later, and while Apple has indicated it will eventually charge for satellite services, it continues to offer them without charge for the time being.

Related Roundups: iOS 18, iPadOS 18
Related Forums: iOS 18, iPadOS 18

Popular Stories

iPhone 16 Pro Sizes Feature

iPhone 16 Series Is Just Two Months Away: Everything We Know

Monday July 15, 2024 4:44 am PDT by
Apple typically releases its new iPhone series around mid-September, which means we are about two months out from the launch of the iPhone 16. Like the iPhone 15 series, this year's lineup is expected to stick with four models – iPhone 16, iPhone 16 Plus, iPhone 16 Pro, and iPhone 16 Pro Max – although there are plenty of design differences and new features to take into account. To bring ...
maxresdefault

Apple's AirPods Pro 2 vs. Samsung's Galaxy Buds3 Pro

Saturday July 13, 2024 8:00 am PDT by
Samsung this week introduced its latest earbuds, the Galaxy Buds3 Pro, which look quite a bit like Apple's AirPods Pro 2. Given the similarities, we thought we'd compare Samsung's new earbuds to the AirPods Pro. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Design wise, you could potentially mistake Samsung's Galaxy Buds3 Pro for the AirPods Pro. The Buds3 Pro have the same...
iPhone 15 Pro Cameras

iPhone 17 Pro Max Will Be First Model to Feature Three 48MP Cameras

Thursday July 11, 2024 12:20 am PDT by
Next year's iPhone 17 Pro Max will feature an upgraded 48-megapixel Tetraprism camera for enhanced photo quality and zoom functionality, according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. In his n-iphone-tetraprism-upgrade-ca62dd37e364">latest investor note published to Medium, Kuo said the key specification change would be a 1/2.6" 48MP CIS sensor, up from the 1/3.1" 12MP sensor expected to be used...
Beyond iPhone 13 Better Blue Face ID Single Camera Hole

10 Reasons to Wait for Next Year's iPhone 17

Monday July 8, 2024 5:00 am PDT by
Apple's iPhone development roadmap runs several years into the future and the company is continually working with suppliers on several successive iPhone models simultaneously, which is why we sometimes get rumored feature leaks so far ahead of launch. The iPhone 17 series is no different – already we have some idea of what to expect from Apple's 2025 smartphone lineup. If you plan to skip...
primeday2020 feature3

The Best Early Prime Day Deals on Apple Products

Saturday July 13, 2024 6:23 am PDT by
Amazon is soon to be back with its annual summertime Prime Day event, lasting for just two days from July 16-17. As it does every year, Prime Day offers shoppers a huge selection of deals across Amazon's storefront, and there are already many deals you can get on sale ahead of the event. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Amazon. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may...

Top Rated Comments

vertsix Avatar
5 weeks ago
Incredibly underrated feature that very few are discussing!

Smartphones are fundamentally communication tools. Satellite connectivity brings an entire new avenue of communication to the conventional smartphone, exponentially increasing coverage and introducing a new way to communicate in emergencies that were never before possible.

EVERY phone needs this.

Dare I say, the biggest new fundamental feature to a smartphone since they added usable mobile data over 15 years ago.

(Yes I am aware satellite phones and beacons have existed for many years. But they are discrete devices separate to the conventional mobile phone which everyone has now. The most useful tool is the one you have with you, always.)
Score: 47 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Sunset Cassette Avatar
5 weeks ago
This is honestly a really great feature to have for anyone who lives in a rural area with spotty (at the best of times) reception, or for those who love to go far out into nature.

Of course having access to Emergency SOS was great, and I'm sure that it has already saved lives, but having the flexibility to reach out to anyone is just an amazing bonus of the already created infrastructure.

Because Canada is such a huge country with a relatively small population, overall lack of network coverage results in many places that potentially thousands of people are travelling to or working at daily where they may not have any cellular service. This offers some reliability to stay in contact with family members, friends, and even employers. I could easily see this becoming a commonly used feature here, and likely an eye-catching and desirable feature for those who are not using an iPhone already.

Big kudos to Apple on this one.
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Bremse Avatar
5 weeks ago
I wonder if both parties can be off grid. Say my wife and I are both out camping in the wilderness, would we be able to text each other? Or does the satellite connection have to be initiated by the user, which would mean the receiving phone wouldn’t be online for incoming messages.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
WildCowboy Avatar
5 weeks ago
Apple invested $450 million partnering with Globalstar to set up the initial system, probably more since then.

https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2022/11/emergency-sos-via-satellite-made-possible-by-450m-apple-investment/
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jrlcopy Avatar
5 weeks ago

And how much dors Apple pay satellite operators?
So far, $252 million, https://spacenews.com/apple-loans-globalstar-252-million-for-satellite-enabled-iphones/
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
GuruZac Avatar
5 weeks ago
This is one of the coolest features of iOS 18.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)