For all my photography and hiking outings, I take my Garmin InReach Mini with me. The InReach is an emergency satellite communicator. It can send short messages to family and contact emergency services in case of an emergency. Even if I expect to maintain cell service for an entire outing, I still take my InReach. You just never know and better to have the ability to signal for help quickly. Apple unveiled its new emergency SOS feature on the new iPhone in the fall 2022. Since that time, I’ve heard many mention how that’s going to be great when they are out photographing in locations without service. And while it is certainly better than nothing, I wouldn’t recommend you depend on it solely just yet. Here’s my quick tech tip comparing Apple’s iPhone Emergency SOS vs the Garmin InReach Mini.
The iPhone Emergency SOS capability uses Globalstar which has known holes in the coverage. Even though the holes are located mostly in areas outside the United States, that’s still good to know. Here are a couple of the caveats to understand.
Additionally, the Apple Emergency SOS feature on the iPhone is a directional antenna. This means you’ll need to follow the prompts and point your phone in the direction of the satellite. This means that while communicating with emergency services, there is a potential situation where you will need to physically move to get a satellite signal. This could be problematic if you are hurt or located in front of a massive rock wall. All of this will use up time and the phone’s battery. Even with all that said, the Emergency SOS feature is a great option to have. It will certainly save a life, however, I consider this feature a backup plan. But even with a backup plan, you need to learn and know how to use it!
First, it only offers two-way messaging with emergency services or your emergency health contacts in an emergency. With the Garmin InReach, you can message family or friends with this feature to keep them updated for non-emergencies. I like that I can send preprogrammed messages to my family as updates. For example, I like to let my family know that I’m taking longer than expected or I that I’m going off-course from my original plan.
My main method of emergency preparedness is and will continue to be my Garmin InReach Mini. Garmin uses the InReach satellite network, which is global poll-to-poll network coverage. That means there are no holes in coverage. Additionally, it is omnidirectional meaning it sends the message out in any direction to any antennae it can find. If you are hurt and cannot move, you can still get a message out. When I consider coverage area, reliability of use, ruggedness to withstand impacts, and battery life to continuously community with emergency services should something happen and simultaneously keep my family up to date, Garmin wins in all these categories.
For the iPhone Emergency SOS vs Garmin InReach, my Garmin InReach Mini will still stand superior in my book. This is sufficient for me since most of my outings are day trips. Typically, I will get internet or cell service at least once a day when I return to the campsite or hotel. If you are going out for multi-day backpacking trips, you may want to look at investing in a personal locator beacon (PBL). They are the most reliable device but have no way to text communicate. If you are only planning for just a couple of trips per year, you can also consider renting one of these devices.
While I’m by no means an expert, I hope these notes help if you’ve been given a false sense of security with this new feature. While it is certainly better than nothing, I won’t depend on it solely for now. The SOS feature is free for the first two years of service. I think Apple is giving itself some time to build out the feature. As Apple invests and expands this feature, I think it will be more competitive with Garmin and other similar services in the years to come.
Cheers to your safety and happy photographing!