Apple was apparently working on a feature that would have allowed iPhone users to message each other without a Wi-Fi or cellular connection.
Unfortunately, that new feature has reportedly been shelved (for the time being), according to a new report by The Information citing sources familiar with the matter.
The Information describes the platform as a “walkie-talkie” feature, but for text messages. It worked by sending messages over long-range radio waves to bypass cellular networks.
One source said the tech was designed to use the 900 MHz spectrum, which is actually already used for radio communications in the oil, gas and utility industries.
In other words, it could allow a user to send an iMessage to another iPhone owner in areas without cellular connectivity or nearby Wi-Fi networks.
That could come in handy for users in remote locations while camping, hiking or skiing, for example.
Apple was said to be working with Intel on the feature, which was internally codenamed Project OGRS, which is pronounced “ogres” but likely stands for Off Grid Radio Service. (Amusingly, at Intel, the initiative was dubbed Project Shrek.)
It appears that the feature would only be used for Apple’s own instant messaging standard. The report doesn’t mention any support for SMS texts or phone calls.
While the feature was reportedly “walkie-talkie”-like, it’s important to note that it’s seemingly unrelated to the Apple Watch’s Walkie-Talkie feature — which actually relies on cellular or wireless connectivity.
Why Was It Put on Hold?
As mentioned, the project has apparently been put on hold for the foreseeable future. It’s not clear why Apple decided to stop development of the technology, but The Information notes that there are a few likely reasons.
For one, the Apple executive heading the project, Rubén Caballero, left the Cupertino tech giant earlier this year. Given the fact that it also relied on Intel models, Apple’s recent multi-year contract with Qualcomm also likely played a part.
Will This Be a Feature in the Future?
This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen reports of Apple wireless communication development.
The company has filed several patent applications in the past for off-grid and short-range communication technology that bypassed cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity. At least one of those patents specifically namedrops “off-grid radio service” technology.
So while the feature may have hit a roadblock, there’s still a good chance it could show up in a future iPhone. One of The Information’s sources even corroborated that fact.
In the meantime, there are other solutions for off-grid communications. Other companies, like goTenna, currently sell mesh network-based devices aimed at everyone from hikers and concertgoers to first responders in disaster situations.
Despite the project being shelved, it does illustrate Apple’s broader ambitions in the wireless sphere. The company is largely expected to debut its first 5G-compatible iPhones in 2020, and other reports suggest that it is currently developing its own in-house modem technology.