Android’s Dream of Satellite Connectivity Done Before It Even Began

Android’s Dream of Satellite Connectivity Done Before It Even Began

Safety is a major selling point in a society that profits from fear-mongering, so I’m scratching my head about the cancelled plans for Android’s version of satellite connectivity.

Qualcomm, the maker of the most popular chip powering Android devices, planned to sell the capability for satellite connectivity to the manufacturers. At the start of the year, it showed off its ability to journalists and had several smartphone makers on board, including Xiaomi, Motorola, and Oppo. But last week, Iridium, the company with which Qualcomm would have contracted the satellite connection, announced that Qualcomm had terminated the agreements with manufacturers to bring its services to smartphones.

The press release explains that while the companies “successfully developed and demonstrated the technology,” the smartphone manufacturers “have not included the technology in their devices,” which seems to have resulted in stagnation.

“While I’m disappointed that this partnership didn’t bear immediate fruit, we believe the direction of the industry is clear toward increased satellite connectivity in consumer devices,” said Iridium CEO Matt Desch. And then, there’s mention of Apple paving the way for these particular satellite offerings.

“Led by Apple today, [mobile network operators] and device manufacturers still plan, over time, to provide their customers with expanded coverage and new satellite-based features.” Iridium plans to directly pursue partnerships with the device manufacturers rather than rely on Qualcomm as the initiator.

A Qualcomm spokesperson confirmed to Gizmodo that the company expects to “continue to collaborate with Iridium on standards-based solutions while discontinuing efforts on the proprietary solution that was introduced earlier this year.”

I have been following Android’s supposed advent of satellite offerings as a devoted Green Bubble. I liked the feature when Apple debuted it on the iPhone 14/14 Pro—it is why I carry the review unit with me if I’m going out into the California hills. I had hoped Android would follow suit with this personal safety feature by the end of the year, as Qualcomm projected in January.

Qualcomm and Iridium’s Snapdragon Satellite offerings were less turnkey than Apple’s Emergency SOS via Satellite. But it enabled you to send an Over-the-Top (OTT) text message through an app like WhatsApp without relying on a third party. Apple’s version connects to its relay services, which route you to the appropriate emergency service.

Android doesn’t currently offer any satellite connectivity in this vein. The only safety features provided are Google’s Pixel Crash Detection and Samsung’s SOS messages. The Pixel smartphone wouldn’t have debuted with satellite services since it runs on Google’s Tensor chip. The Pixel 7 and Pixel 8 are rumoured to have hidden satellite connectivity capabilities enabled through Android 14, though nothing has been revealed yet. There’s code that shows connectivity to Garmin’s Response service is coming down the pipeline, which is the same network Iridium provides the infrastructure for.

I’ll be curious to see if Iridium and Google will offer satellite connectivity for Pixel users before the rest of the Android ecosystem hops on board. Unfortunately, it will cost users who are interested in the ability. Garmin’s emergency services currently require a $US15/month subscription on its devices.

Apple will also eventually charge for Emergency SOS via satellite, though it gave iPhone 14 Pro users two years before paying. Regardless, with all the coverage around lives saved because of the availability of this feature on the iPhone, calling for help via satellite will become the bonafide extra value-add for flagship smartphones.

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