An SOS satellite icon has just appeared on your iPhone? Here’s why !

A couple of readers contacted us the other day asking why a satellite icon and the word SOS had suddenly appeared on their iPhone. Specifically in the status bar at the top of the screen. They had never seen them before and worried that their iPhone would make an emergency SOS call, or they would be charged or get in trouble like it might be on the ski slopes of the world whole right now.

Weird !

Well, first of all, Apple rolled out the emergency SOS service via satellite in a number of countries at the end of last year, on the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max.

If you have one of these devices and you live in France, but also in the United States, Canada, Germany, Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can test this feature yourself by clicking on Settings>Emergency callthen scrolling down to Satellite emergency call and finally clicking on Try the demo.

Very specific test conditions to reproduce the message

I had difficulty, at first, to reproduce what the couple of readers had described.

I’m a heavy iPhone user (my iPhone 14 Pro Max barely leaves my hand) but I had never seen this. Which made me wonder if it was a bug.

After several attempts, I found a way to reproduce this phenomenon discovered by our two readers.

To succeed :

  • I had to be out of all cellular and Wi-Fi coverage (I had turned off Wi-Fi), either outside or inside a building.
  • I had to fire up a mapping app like Google Maps or Waze (this might work with other apps, but that’s what worked for me).

The method may or may not work, but it turns out that it did! The satellite icon and the SOS appeared!

Emergency SOS icon appears in iPhone status bar, but no Emergency SOS call is made

The emergency SOS icon appears in the status bar of my iPhone, but there is no emergency SOS call. / Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

In the Control Center panel we only see the satellite icon.

The satellite also appears in the Control Center panel. Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

We contacted Apple tech support about this, and, after running some tests on the iPhone, we were told that this was normal behavior, no emergency SOS calls were being made, and that no data could be sent or received over the satellite network (except in the event of a true emergency SOS call).

Another question posed to Apple tech support: Was there a risk of it incurring charges and issues because the device appears to be making an SOS call via satellite? We were told there was no risk!

So, if you see “SOS satellite” pop up on your iPhone, don’t panic. This is likely because you are out of phone network coverage, and your device is not making an SOS call. You won’t be charged or get in trouble.

As to whether this is a bug or a feature programmed as such, we are not sure. Maybe Apple is doing some testing. Maybe it’s related to Find My. Or maybe it’s something weird that happens when running mapping apps.

To go further on the satellite function of the iPhone 14 Pro

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