In recent months, Apple has been quietly building up a team of aerospace and communication experts to explore a satellite project that may one day allow the tech giant to transmit data from the sky directly to its devices without the need of third-party carriers.
According to Bloomberg, which first reported on the project, Apple has hired about a dozen engineers in wireless-related industries for the effort and expects initial results within five years, said people familiar with the matter.
The project is still in early stage, but CEO Tim Cook has indicated that it’s a priority within the company, Bloomberg’s sources said.
These satellites will likely be used to improve location tracking of Apple devices, enhance mapping and imaging features, and even provide internet service directly to iPhones and iPads.
If true, that means Apple’s satellite project will have some overlap with SpaceX’s ambitious Starlink mission and competing satellite-based broadband internet projects led by companies like OneWeb and Amazon.
It’s too early to say whether Apple will eventually pursue such expensive endeavors like building a multi-hundred-satellite constellation in the sky. The trillion-dollar company can certainly afford it, with its ever increasing budget in research and development. (In fiscal year 2019, Apple spent $16 billion in R&D.) However, Bloomberg noted that “Apple rarely enters new categories without a clear way to make money.”
Currently, satellite manufacturing is dominated by Airbus, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
Apple’s satellite team is led by Michael Trela and John Fenwick, both former leads of satellite engineering at Google who joined Apple in 2017. The team has only accelerated hiring in recent months, seeking software and hardware engineers with experience in building components for communications equipment.