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Hikers, rejoice: Apple iOS 18 will let you text when off the grid

Apple revealed big changes at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, from ways to hide your secret apps to new AI tools. But a few of the announcements were geared toward outdoor enthusiasts, particularly those prone to adventuring off the grid.

According to the preview, Apple’s forthcoming iOS 18 release — which should be available to the public this fall — will enable U.S. users with an iPhone 14 or later to send and receive texts and emojis over iMessage and SMS even when cell service or WiFi isn’t available. That would mean that if all goes according to the company’s plans, your “don’t worry mom, the camping trip is going great!” text should get through even from the remote backcountry.

Apple did not provide insight when asked whether sending such messages will cost users a fee or come with limitations. It has yet to charge for sending emergency texts by satellite when out of cell service, a feature that debuted in 2022.

If the new satellite texting will work similarly to that SOS feature, the Apple Support website says “you need to be outside, on relatively open terrain, with a clear view of the sky.” Tree foliage can slow down or block the connection, as can hills, mountains or canyons.

The iOS 18 release will also feature new tools for hikers and forest bathers, Apple said. Apple Maps, notably, will incorporate thousands of hiking routes throughout America’s national parks and allow users to filter them by details such as length or elevation. Hikers will also be able to create custom routes, access trails offline and organize them in a new “Places Library.”

Kevin Long, CEO of the camping app the Dyrt, called the announced updates “a huge win for helping people get outside,” particularly at a time when American interest in camping is high and campsite reservations are getting more competitive. That has driven more people to try backcountry camping, where service is spotty, if not nonexistent.

Increasing connectivity “will help keep people safe — especially the millions of first-time campers we’ve seen every year since 2020 — as they explore dispersed camping,” Long wrote in an email.

Justin Wood, REI’s co-op director of experiences, said increasing the ability to stay in touch can provide assurance to loved ones back home and make your time in nature better. But having access to messaging isn’t an excuse to cut corners on doing your homework ahead of a trip, he said.

“Most importantly, everyone who plays outside should plan ahead, prepare carefully, and choose activities and destinations that match their ability levels to avoid issues that can arise, regardless of technology available,” Wood wrote in an email.

Before it officially debuts as a software update for iPhone Xs and newer models, a public beta version of iOS 18 will be available to try next month through the Apple Beta Software Program.

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