Apple is developing satellite technology to support its devices
Satellites could help with maps, tracking, coverage, and more. A new report from Bloomberg says that Apple is working on satellite technology to beam data to smartphones for consumers and could launch a new mobile project in five years.
Nevertheless, there are many unknowns and caveats. The idea is “very early and might be abandoned,” Bloomberg reports, and it’s not clear what the end goal of Apple is. Whether the company decides to build its own satellites or just use satellite data from others is also unclear.
Nevertheless, the iPhone manufacturer could do a number of useful things with the technology in hand. It could boost its maps service and location tracking, or increasing its devices ‘ mobile reception and internet coverage, making the company more independent of carriers.
Apple only has around a dozen engineers working on the project, says Bloomberg, but is staffing up steadily. A pair of aerospace engineers, Michael Trela and John Fenwick, who previously worked for Skybox Imaging, a satellite imaging company acquired by Google in 2014, are currently leading the team. While at Google, before switching to Apple in 2017, Trela and Fenwick were working on satellites and spacecraft.
Some findings are preliminary, but the only tech company that shows interest in satellites is definitely not Apple. The sector is undergoing a revival, as new technology has reduced costs. Both SpaceX and Amazon are working on their own plans to provide satellite internet coverage and have started to launch what will soon be constellations of thousands of crafts in low Earth orbit.
However, the satellite industry has a checkered past, and high-profile failures such as Iridium, GlobalStar, and Teledisc are littered. These were firms that brought in lots of funding and launched satellite fleets in the 1990s, but ultimately failed to sustain themselves because of financial and technological challenges.
It remains to be seen whether or not Apple’s satellites crash or float. Yet Bloomberg notes that Apple CEO Tim Cook took an interest in the project — a potentially positive indication when the company is raising R&D investment (up 14% to $16 billion in 2019).