Google might recreate Apple’s satellite SOS on Android

Google appears to be working on a satellite SOS feature for Google Messages that would let users text emergency services from remote areas without a conventional cell signal. As spotted by developer Neïl Rahmouni, early code in the Google Messages app shows work on an integration with Garmin and its emergency Garmin Response service. Google also appears to have started work on a UI for messaging emergency responders.

Garmin’s emergency service uses the Iridium satellite network, which Iridium says is capable of delivering a signal “anywhere on Earth.” There is a big catch, though, when it comes to using satellite SOS services from Garmin: it requires a $15 per month subscription on Garmin’s own devices. So while this would be a great feature to have on your phone, you’d likely have to continually pay for access if you’re concerned you’ll ever need it.

Apple launched emergency SOS messaging on the iPhone 14 and 14 Pro last year. The feature directs users to point their phone in the direction of a satellite to get a connection, then lets them send a series of prewritten emergency responses, like that they have a vehicle issue or are trapped. Apple has made the service free for two years, with the implication being that users will eventually have to pay. The company hasn’t yet announced what the price will be, and there’s still more than a year to go before the first free trials will have ended.

Rahmouni speculates that Google’s service could be available in more than 150 countries. While that’s possible based on the reach of Iridium’s network, Apple’s service is currently only offered in 14 countries and not every location that its satellite provider, Globalstar, is able to reach. So it’s not a sure thing that Google’s version would launch globally.

Google isn’t alone in bringing satellite services to Android. Qualcomm is also working on adding support for SOS messaging via Iridium with a service it’s calling Snapdragon Satellite. Qualcomm’s service also works with Garmin Response. The company said in February that Honor, Motorola, Nothing, Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi are all currently working on phones with hardware that supports the feature.

It’s possible that what we’re seeing in Google Messages is just the UI for phones that support Snapdragon Satellite. But Google has separately said that it’s working on supporting satellite internet service in Android 14. And if satellite SOS services are going to be offered across Pixel or Samsung phones, which don’t all use Qualcomm processors, it’ll be necessary for Google to develop its own infrastructure to support this emergency tech — so we might just be seeing the early signs of that.

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