It’s no surprise that Apple has secret teams working on secret projects. Over the years, we’ve heard of Apple Cars, Apple AR Headsets—you name it. Now, a Bloomberg report says the latest “secret” team is working on satellites that could potentially beam data to devices sometime in the next five years.
According to Bloomberg, Apple has hired roughly a dozen engineers with experience in aerospace, satellite, and antenna design. Bloomberg goes on to assert that Apple has also begun hiring both software and hardware experts for the secret satellite team, and is looking for more engineers who know how to design components for communications tech. At the moment, the team is purportedly led by Michael Trela and John Fenwick, both former aerospace engineers who worked for Google before leaving for Apple in 2017.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has also reportedly marked the project as a high priority, even though it’s still in the early stages. That said, it’s not clear if Apple is aiming to build its own satellite constellation in space, or if it’d be a network that takes advantage of existing satellites via on-the-ground equipment.
As for what the satellite network could be used for? It likely has something to do with beaming data directly to users, possibly circumventing traditional internet service providers. It’s also possible Apple could be envisioning a type of mesh network for devices that don’t rely on existing network infrastructure. In any case, it wouldn’t be the first tech giant to look up at the stars and go ‘Hmm, maybe we should stick more satellites up there.’ Amazon has Project Kuiper, an ambitious plan to launch more than 3,200 satellites into low orbit as a means of supplying internet service to 95 percent of the world. Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s SpaceX also has plans to launch satellites into space via its Starlink project—60 have already been launched, and the FCC has already approved the launch of an additional 11,943.
While we don’t know exactly what Apple plans to use the satellites for, the idea it could use it to compete with internet service providers is wild. When Apple announced it was pivoting to services back in March, it’s fair to say something as infrastructurally complex as a satellite network wasn’t at the forefront of people’s minds. However, App-based services like Apple Arcade and Apple TV+ were always going to compete in heavily crowded markets and are unlikely to rake in as much cash as its hardware sales. Sidestepping major carriers that everyone already hates? That would be potentially huge. Again, the project is in very early stages and it’s possible Apple could pull the plug before we see anything. But, ISPs should still be wary. After all, whatever Apple does, the loyal fanbase tends to follow.