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Did an SOS satellite icon just appear on your iPhone? Here’s why

Image: Apple

A few readers contacted me the other day wondering why a satellite icon and the words SOS suddenly appeared on their iPhones in the status bar at the top. They hadn’t seen it before and were worried that their iPhone was making an SOS emergency call and they could be billed for it or get in trouble.

Strange!

Apple rolled out Emergency SOS via satellite to a number of countries late last year iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max.

If you have one of these handsets and live in the US, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland or the UK, you can test this by pressing Settings > Emergency SOSscroll to the bottom of the page to Emergency SOS via satellite and press on Try Demo.

Also: How to use the iPhone 14’s emergency SOS satellite text feature

But that’s not what happened here.

Now, I’m a heavy iPhone user, my iPhone 14 Pro Max barely leaves my hand – and I hadn’t seen this, which made me wonder if it was some kind of specific bug.

After some back and forth I came up with a way to replicate this.

  • I had to be outside of cellular and Wi-Fi coverage (I had Wi-Fi turned off), either in nature or in a building.
  • Have a map app such as Google Maps or Waze running (it may work with other apps, but this is what worked for me).
  • Wait! It may or may not appear.

And there it is!

The emergency SOS icon appears in the status bar on my iPhone - but I don't make an emergency call

The emergency SOS icon appears in the status bar on my iPhone – but I don’t make an emergency call

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

In the control center panel I can only see one satellite.

The satellite is also displayed in the control center panel

The satellite is also displayed in the control center panel

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

I contacted Apple tech support about this issue and after running some tests on my iPhone, I was told that its normal behavior even though no emergency call is made and no data can be sent or received via the satellite network (except when making a genuine emergency call).

I asked if there was a chance this would cost me money or get me in some kind of trouble because my handset looked like it was making an SOS satellite call and I was told there was no danger before that.

Also: Best Satellite Phones

So, if you see “SOS Satellite” appear on your iPhone, don’t panic. It’s probably because you’re out of signal coverage, but you’re not actually making an SOS call and you won’t get billed or get into trouble.

I’m not sure if this is a bug or a feature. Maybe Apple is testing something. Maybe it has something to do with Find My. Maybe something weird happens when you run map apps.

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