Apple’s SOS service, powered by Globalstar launched in 2022 on all iPhones 14 (Pro and non-Pro) as well as the Apple Watch Ultra. The SOS function launched later in the year for free to all who purchased compatible hardware for the first 2 years. By this time next year, Apple will need to announce pricing.
An avid outdoors lover, I have carried a Garmin InReach with me at all times when hiking, camping, walking around outdoors and more. When I purchased my iPhone 14 Pro max and Apple Watch Ultra, I was living in New Hampshire where I still did not have cell phone service. I’d see the SOS logo in lieu of cellular signal anytime I drove to the office or walked the dog. I was so excited to have one less device with me and save myself $29 a month and $49 a year paid to Garmin. Since I’ve moved to Charlotte, I still spend a lot of days outdoors but I’m rarely without cell phone service now.
…and when I did a 7-day trip to northern canada and Newfoundland in July, I re-activated the Garmin InReach for that extra piece of mind despite having an iPhone 14 on me the entire trip.
Garmin had a few benefits Apple’s hardware did not thanks to a larger antenna and dedicated hardware. My InReach could be tracked by my wife anywhere. She could see my location instantly by going to a special web page and entering a passcode. I could also text anything I wanted to any phone number made easier by the InReach app where I could type on a smartphone keyboard instead of the old thumb pad input on the InReach. Finally, InReach had topographic maps for the entire USA. I could open it up anywhere and relate myself to the surroundings, use the compass and know how to find water or civilization.
Of course, all of this came for a high price and now, FindMy, Basic texting to my wife and emergency SOS were built in to my iPhone 14.
With the news that Apple’s partner globalstar has used Space-X to launch many more satellites into the skies largely dedicated to servicing Apple customers, it makes me wonder what this service will cost.
Let’s look at what others are charging and while this may seem like a huge market, the amount of consumers who spend enough time away from both a group and in a place without cell phone service is pretty small. It’s a larger group on the west coast (where cell service is more spotty). These folks will also have to purchase a $300-$500 device and commit to a monthly and annual fee that will cost hundreds of dollars a year. Apple can easily beat them because of the economies of scale.
Spot trackers are priced $12 – $40 a month along with a $30 activation fee and some plans require a $35 annual fee. You can’t start or stop service without paying the activation fee again. The devices are $129-$249 up front.
Garmin InReach is $12 – $65 a month with a $35 activation fee and they charge $5 to suspend service to counter people like me who are only using these 3-4 months out of the year. Devices are $300-$500 each.
There are some PLBs (Personal locator beacon) that do not have a subscription but will save you in an SOS and offer no tracking or other communication features but are up front $350-$1000. They are “I’m dying, save my life” devices. Note, when you are saved, all of these devices (even Apple’s) are not going to pay for the emergency services response. A helicopter ride can cost 125,000 USD. I’ve heard of services like SkyMed / MedJet / Global Rescue paying out $250,000 to get a customer home after an accident.
On that note, I pay $79 a year for a 70,000 USD plan that goes toward saving me only if I’m over 250 miles from home and require life-flight and extraction services. Others cost more and of course, offer more. Apple does not have any option for this at the moment.
If there are 1 million people in the world with a PLB / Satellite tracker, Apple has already 200 million people in the world with a compatible device using free SOS. converting just 1% of them to paying members will essentially double the active market to a point where Apple doesn’t need to create a $29-$59 a month service.
I think SOS will be $49 a year or $5 a month to convert 2 million people to their SOS service and, because bundling, it will be included with AppleOne because what’s better than people paying $5 a month? Well, it’s getting them to pay $30 a month and subscribe to everything Apple has to offer.
I don’t think Apple’s SOS service will put Spot & Garmin out of business. There will be a drop off from people like me who just want to know they can call for help if they are attacked by a bear. Heck, I hiked this morning and saw a huge black bear 20 feet off the trail. I set off my Apple Watch Ultra siren and combined with the barking dog, she ran away into the woods. My iPhone showed SOS on the screen and I could have reached emergency services with a message to my wife simultaneously. The Garmin can do that too but at a much higher price. I still think the hardcore Appalachian trail hikers or bike-packing folks who are out of connection for days at a time will still carry a PLB. The overlanders, long distance motorcycle touring folks driving from Alaska to South America and the cross-country skiers riding around on the backcountry. They need PLBs in case of an avalanche and want reliable connection with pintpoint accuracy and don’t want to fuss with line-of-sight cell phone orientation pointing to get help. The user experience of Apple’s SOS service is vastly inferior to the services that cost much more. I think Apple has a home-run for more casual users who just need help and don’t have service.
In fact, SOS may be a wake up call to some people that could graduate to owning a real PLB when they have an emergency and see how slow and cumbersome Apple’s SOS is compared to a dedicated device with its one-week battery life and easier use along with being hooked to their clothes via a clip than stuck in a backpack. This could grow the amount of people using a dedicated PLB who never knew those products existed
Apple will charge for this service and $49 a year feels right. Not so much that people will think too hard about it and not so little that it is ran at a total loss. The hardware and all of the back of house infrastructure isn’t cheap. Apple’s been running this at a loss for 12 months and as 250 million SOS compatible devices come online by this Christmas, Apple can once again boost services revenue with a proven safety technology.
I hope Apple will consider adding extraction service coverage for an additional fee. This would make them money. 1 out of every 100,000 people will need a $100,000 helpicopter ride so charging everyone $100 a year will net apple an additional 10 million USD in revenue. It’s a safe option to offer.
I hope to hear more next week and I hope Apple can provide a service for $49 a year or less. It would be HUGE.