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Google’s Surprise Update Just Made Android More Like iPhone

Android and iPhone have never been closer, with little between the operating systems and their handsets. In the main, Google might seem to do more following than leading, but it has just beaten Apple at its own game, with a stunning new feature that is surprisingly coming to Android first and could be just around the corner…

Google is on a mission to make Android more like iPhone, as the world’s two leading smartphone ecosystems battle for users. We have seen Google recently enhance Android security, include WhatsApp calls on its phone dialer and even add Apple passes to its wallet. Now this latest update not only matches an existing iPhone feature, but it goes much further, surprisingly beating Apple at its own game.

I’ve already reported on Google’s push to include an emergency satellite service as a new feature, which will see Android finally match the satellite SOS functionality that Apple has had on its iPhone for a few years. Google’s offering even seems to add a readymade Garmin rescue service into its plan. This is clearly a big step forwards for the safety and security of its vast user base.

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The issue with Apple’s emergency SOS offering is just that—it’s only for emergencies. And so for those of us not climbing mountains or sailing oceans, it puts an SOS tag on the screen when we’re out of coverage, but it’s something we never use.

Now with the latest Android 15 developer preview, it looks like Google is bridging the gap, opening the door for users to expand their cellular accounts to include a satellite add-on, and enabling core messaging apps to use that satellite network. No more cellular black-spots dropping users into a connectivity black hole.

According to Mishaal Rahman, “Android 15 DP2 adds some UI elements to ensure a ‘consistent user experience’ for devices that support satellite connectivity. The update also expands platform support for satellite connectivity by adding a new API that apps can use to detect when a device is connected to a satellite. Android 15 also lets SMS/MMS/RCS apps use satellite connectivity for sending and receiving messages.”

That last little bit is the real news, and we know that some networks have plans to add LEO satellite connectivity as an account option . This is an improvement on what we first thought was coming, when Google (prematurely) updated Pixel phones with a “Satellite SOS” feature slotted between Car Crash Detection and Emergency SOS.

Apple’s satellite connectivity remains more limited. “With iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro, iPhone 15 or iPhone 15 Pro,” it says, “you can connect your iPhone to a satellite to text the emergency services, request roadside assistance and share your location with friends and family – all while you’re off the grid with no mobile and Wi-Fi coverage.”

We did hope Android might go further, with previous beta code suggesting a satellite messaging option in partnership with T-Mobile. The potential for what this might eventually mean hit the headlines when Elon Musk announced that SpaceX had achieved downloads speeds of 17mbps to an unmodified Galaxy S21 Ultra.

As SamMobile reported following that Samsung test, the device “wouldn’t require any special hardware to connect to a satellite. So, even when there is no conventional cellular network range nearby, a smartphone would be able to make/receive calls and messages by connecting directly to a satellite. Starlink has been testing such a service, and it looks like we can use it in the coming months.”

This teases a future where direct to phone satellite connectivity becomes more normal and usable, but in the meantime messaging integration is a great start.

That this is coming to Android 15 now seems confirmed—absent a major change. And as Android and iPhone come ever closer, this looks like being an example of Google leading with (one expects) Apple to follow. Coming just after the “blockbuster” news that Gemini might be coming to iPhone and Apple claiming the DOJ lawsuit would essentially turn iPhone into Android, this has been an interesting week.

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