A day before Apple unveiled its long-awaited satellite-powered SOS feature for iPhone 14, Huawei announced its own equivalent.
The Chinese telecom equipment and smartphone giant said its flagship Mate 50 series will support SMS messaging via satellite communications. The feature is powered by Beidou, China’s proprietary navigational alternative to the US government-run Global Positioning System.
Sending messages via satellite signal is not a particularly new technology. But it’s the first time this feature from Beidou’s has been implemented in consumer-facing smartphones, Huawei said. Users can send messages and their geographic coordinates using a special app and generate a map of their path while the mobile connection is not available.
The SOS communications feature may be more useful in the US, where it’s easy to go off-the-grid — either because people choose to camp, or simply because cellular signals aren’t covered. Anyone who’s tried to get to the real wilderness in China knows how often they end up on 5G-covered paved roads (with steps and railings!) instead of trails in spectacular national reserves.
This new buzzy satellite feature probably won’t save Huawei from its own problems. The behemoth’s market share has taken a hit worldwide since the US cut it off from core Android services and advanced chip essentials. It has also suffered at home, because it fell out of the top five brands in China last year, according to Counterpoint data. Apple was in fifth place in China’s second quarter with 13% of the country’s shipping volume.
Apple’s SOS satellite option is only available in the US and Canada for now, while Huawei’s only works in mainland China. The rift has led a Chinese tech analyst to hint at the US-China technology decoupling: “This situation [of the two handset giants each providing the SOS feature in their own country] is a metaphor for our world today.”
But the ties between the two tech superpowers were harder to untangle than many expected. As the New York Times reported this week:
According to four people familiar with the new operations and analysts, Apple’s Chinese employees and suppliers contributed more than ever complex work and advanced components for the 15th year of its roster, including aspects of manufacturing design, speakers and batteries. As a result, the iPhone has changed from a product designed in California and made in China to a product of both countries.