With the release of iPhone 13 (or perhaps the 12S – it still isn't clear) likely to be just weeks away if Apple sticks to its usual September slot, we thought we'd heard everything possible about the hotly awaited phone. But while most of the rumours have involved largely predictable (though welcome) upgrades such as new cameras and colour options, the latest suggestion is that the phone could take a massive leap in terms of connectivity.
In what sounds like the most far-out rumour yet, it's been suggested that the next iPhone will feature hardware to allow the kind of satellite communication functionality currently only available on specialist satellite phones. That's something that could be a lifesaver if you find yourself without 4G or 5G coverage, but the question is how many of us will actually get to use it (see our roundup of the best Apple deals available now for the best prices on Apple's current range).
The rumour would be easy to dismiss as far fetched were is not that it comes from the eminently reliable financial analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. In a note to investors seen by MacRumors (opens in new tab), he says the next iPhone will include hardware that can connect to low earth orbit (LEO) satellites as well as to the usual cell phone towers. LEO satellites circle the planet like GPS satellites, meaning that there should always be one within reach wherever on Earth you find yourself.
They can only be used for communication at the moment by satellite phones, which are often used on ships and for exploration of remote locations, but Kuo says the iPhone 13 would have the ability to use them thanks to its customised Qualcomm X60 baseband chip. When enabled using the relevant software, that would allow users to make calls and send messages without a 4G or 5G cellular connection. It sounds hugely exciting, but, of course, there's a ton of questions – not least whether the feature will actually be activated.
Two companies, Iridium and Globalstar, currently offer satellite phone services, and they're far from cheap. Globalstar plans (opens in new tab) cost $8.95 a month for a single text message per day and $199.99 a month for unlimited calls. Kuo suggests that Apple will work with Globalstar and that mobile network operators could offer access to the company's service through their own plans to avoid the need for extra contracts or payments. Nonetheless, that could mean a price hike that only yacht owners and adventurers would be prepared to pay as an alternative to using a separate satellite phone.
Another option might be for either Apple or mobile operators to use the functionality to offer a free emergency services call service for people in isolated areas. Either way, Kuo reckons Apple sees LEO satellite communications as a key area for the future and plans to bring the technology to more devices, from electric vehicles to mixed reality devices and other Internet of Things accessories.
While this potential feature of the iPhone 13 might not be available for us all, there are a lot of other rumours flying around that give us big expectations for the upcoming device, from extra battery power and game-changing video to a solution to allow Face ID to work when using a face mask.
See our roundup of Apple iPhone 13 rumours for more on what we expect – and hope – to see in the next Apple phone. Meanwhile, if you don't want to wait – or don't want to pay the price for the newest model, the existing range of iPhones already offers outstanding performance. See below for the best deals available now, or see our choice of the best camera phones for other options.