Messages via satellite might end my relationship with Garmin

When COVID-19 hit, I dove into hiking, camping, and backpacking since that was one thing you could do without being around other people. Now, being in the backcountry is something that I absolutely love to do, and I try to ensure I do it at least once every couple of months.

One of the things that allows me to feel safe out there is my Garmin inReach, Garmin’s tiny satellite communicator that not only lets me alert emergency services if I found myself in a bad situation but also lets me text my family and friends to stay in touch.

While the inReach has been a source of comfort, it’s also come with a cost. Not only is the inReach itself hundreds of dollars, but the messaging, tracking, and SOS features come with a subscription of at least $15 per month depending on how many messages, etc you need to use.

While I can message my family and friends, the user experience is also not great. It requires the Garmin Earthmate app which, while functional, is certainly old and in need of an update. I also commonly run into issues using someone’s phone number and have instead had to resort to emailing people to ensure our messages get to each other.

Enter iOS 18 and Messages via satellite

I’ve been hoping that Apple would eventually build out its own technology that would render my inReach useless, and it appears that’s exactly what Apple is doing.

The company already released Emergency SOS via satellite a while ago which allows you to use your iPhone to message emergency services if you find yourself without a Wi-Fi or cellular connection. The feature also tracks your location and pings your emergency contacts, all through a connection with a satellite. It’s basically the same thing you get with Garmin’s SOS feature.

Messages via satellite on the iPhone.

While that was great, I still needed the inReach to message my friends and family in order to stay in contact and let them know I wasn’t eaten by a bear. I’ve been waiting for Apple to launch similar messaging capabilities for the iPhone and, with iOS 18, it’s finally here. At WWDC 2024, the company announced Messages via satellite.

Not only will the feature let you message your family and friends, but you’ll also be able to do it directly through the Messages app through your existing conversations rather than through a separate app like the Garmin Earthmate app. You’ll be able to use some iMessage features like emoji and Tapbacks and, of course, all of your iMessages will be end-to-end encrypted.

If the person you’re messaging doesn’t use an iPhone, you’ll still be able to send messages over SMS. They just won’t get those privacy protections or additional features like iMessage has.

iOS 18 introduces Messages via satellite for the times when cellular and Wi-Fi connections aren’t available. Powered by the same groundbreaking technology as existing iPhone satellite capabilities, Messages via satellite automatically prompts users to connect to their nearest satellite right from the Messages app to send and receive texts, emoji, and Tapbacks over iMessage and SMS.3 With Dynamic Island, users always know when they are connected to a satellite. Because iMessage was built to protect user privacy, iMessages sent via satellite are end-to-end encrypted.

This messaging experience is a huge upgrade compared to what is currently offered through Garmin. With both SOS and messaging features, I can’t see a reason to continue to use the Garmin inReach anymore except as redundancy in case my iPhone exploded. Being that I also only go backpacking and camping with friends who also have satellite communicators, I don’t think I’ll need the redundancy.

We’ll have to see what Apple charges for Messages via satellite. The company has yet to charge for Emergency SOS via Satellite but it seems to plan to, even though we don’t know what the price will be just yet. With messaging on the horizon, however, I imagine that pricing could finally make itself known.

Just remember that, due to requiring the hardware to support the satellite features, Messages via satellite will only be supported on the iPhone 14 or newer. As long as the service isn’t more than $15 per month (actually, I would probably tolerate a little more than that due to the better feature set), I think I’ll be dumping my inReach and heading into the backcountry with just my iPhone in the future. What a world!

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