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Latest Apple phones - will they eat Spot’s lunch?

Gary Jacek

Dec 11, 2009
Victoria, BC
Just watching todays announcements/marketing from Apple.
The new satellite help function is going to cut into Spot’s market share.
Not necessarily good for on water use, but great for terrestrial use.

The phone-based satellite texting and SOS is in its infancy, and will take years to gain enough functionality to be widely adopted. But I do see phones accessing satellites more and more going forward. Dedicated satellite messaging devices will probably still have a place for more hardcore backcountry users as they often have much better battery life, and can be made quite rugged. But a few years ago when InReach technology evolved sufficiently and it was time to replace my EPIRB, I got the InReach Mini instead. And some number of years down the road, if the phone satellite technology works well, I’ll probably migrate that direction too.
I don't think the current devices will be a replacement any time soon. The point of The Spot, Zoleo, BiviStick, inReach, etc. is to communicate your well-being to the folks back home. If you just wanted to contact S&R/SOS, there are tried and true, dedicated devices (PLB) for that - many of which don't need no stink'ng charging unit. :)

I worry about the younger generation's dependence on multiple functionality devices. They haven't been around long enough to observe that things fail. Sure, we no longer have to replace the "points and plugs" in our cars and I can't remember the last time I had a flat tire. But twice in the last three outings, someone has asked to borrow my charging cable because they either forgot to bring it, couldn't find it in their gear, or the cable was (or became) faulty. They use their phone for video, pictures, texting, navigation, and sometimes even a phone call.

Regardless of "increased battery life", the watch still needs charging. Maybe the next iteration will have a tiny solar panel chip that can trickle charge the battery (Sorry Seattlites).

That said, the screenshots of the Ultra in navigation mode are intriguing. But I would still carry a Spot-Type device. As well as a Marine VHF radio. Belt and Suspenders. That's me.
What Cougarmeat said. Yes, I carry my phone, no I do not use it as my emergency rescue device, nor my navigation device. They work fine for day paddling, or paddling in places where there is cell reception. But they do not work on the ragged green edge of the world: places like the northwest coast.

I was on a trip a few years back, with charts on deck crossing Camano Sound in fog. Two of the group, using satellite phone apps navigation, were out in front and paddled right past the channel we needed to find behind Rennison Island. They were gone for hours and told us later the sat nav app screwed up and took them miles past where we were going.

Similarly, in such locations, a VHF radio will get you marine weather information if close enough to a transmitter, or even a fishing boat; as well as put you in contact with nearby marine traffic or Coast Guard in the area you are paddling if things go awry. Those are the folk you want to contact anyway. I have friends who use Spot and they like it, so if you have worriers at home who want constant updates, it works great. Phones, not so much where I like to paddle most.
Yeah, I'm a bit leery of having all my eggs in one basket (or device) even for non-emergency needs. A lot of folks are happily adopting ApplePay or Wallet or whatever, and some jurisdictions are rolling out on-device driver's licenses and IDs that are legally valid. All great until the phone breaks or gets lost or stolen. Then you have no communication, no money and no way of proving who you are. So I'll still be carrying a phone, hardcopy ID and some cash in the front country, and a free-standing GPS, DSC-VHF and PLB in the backcountry.
Eat Spot's lunch? Not today... but maybe later?

I think the emergency SOS via satellite functionality built into the new iPhone 14 models will be exactly that: an emergency SOS via satellite. Apple says they are providing the service to iPhone 14 buyers for a period of two years, its launching only in Canada & the United States, and the contracted partner provider Globalstar said in a SEC filing that they are reserving 85% of their capacity for the Apple contract. That's interesting.

Spot's devices, Garmin's inReach line, Zoleo, ACR Bivy Stick, Somewhere Global Hotspot, all do two-way messaging with third parties. Yes, they also provide emergency SOS, but so much of their marketing efforts are based around sending messages to loved ones. "Hi partner, I got to the camp site ok." The new iPhone 14 models are more like the ACR ResQLink: a SOS beacon, with capacity to send & receive messages to the emergency services operation center.

Now, one can imagine looking forward a year or two... perhaps Apple expands their satellite network access to include other kinds of data service? Perhaps access to regular iMessage with third parties (friends, family, etc) via satellite for a fee? And including satellite communications on future Watch models? Huh.

And for the more casual outdoors people, if you are looking around MEC or REI and seeing emergency satellite beacons for $200 or more... perhaps you think you don't need it because your iPhone already has that kind of capability? Only time will tell.

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Interesting thread. I wanted to express laid-back disagreement with the notion that modern smartphones aren't good for navigation. As an avid backcountry hiker/backpacker/skier, I've been using my iPhone exclusively for backcountry navigation for years—and it has never let me down, even in rugged wilderness topography under trees. Only a very few times has my phone's GPS shown that I was not where I actually was, and the consequences were mild because I check my phone often (whether paddling or on foot).

A more common issue with phone navigation are the maps being used. Plenty of maps are sometimes "a bit off" when it comes to the precise depiction of where a trail might be. But they're usually in the ballpark. And yes, phones need charging—but every backcountry traveler I know carries a battery bank with them with enough capacity to charge the phone 4-5 times from 0% (more than enough to last for 10 days or more).

Anyway, apologies for the digression! I'm definitely curious to see whether Apple's SOS feature proves to be reliable. I also have a Garmin InReach Mini, and it's so small and light that carrying it with me everywhere is a non-issue. But I would love to ditch the $11/month service fee I pay for it (since I'm already paying through the nose for my iPhone).
Apple said the satellite SOS service would be free for the next 2 years, and didn’t bother saying what it might cost thereafter.
It's from the classic playbook- Live on investor money or cash flow from another part of the business. Drive the competition out of the market with predatory pricing, then crank up the costs to customers.
But Apple wouldn't do that, I'm sure. :)
Apple said the satellite SOS service would be free for the next 2 years, and didn’t bother saying what it might cost thereafter.
Pretty certain it won't be free. The good thing IMHO is that it will spur innovation- Garmin has been pretty static on features even with the Zoleo and other units arriving. With all the LEO satellites being launched there are lots of platforms that could be used in addition to Globalstar, so more services are sure to follow. The wilderness will be less remote though.
With all the LEO satellites being launched there are lots of platforms that could be used in addition to Globalstar, so more services are sure to follow. The wilderness will be less remote though.
I won't knowingly support anything to do with Elon Musk's 'space junk' program (or similar constellations of satellites).