Apple reportedly developing satellites to support its iOS devices

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Apple's newest project is a satellite network to support iOS devices.
Image: Cody DeBos / The Burn-In

Apple is already the world’s largest tech company. Earlier this year its stock market valuation eclipsed that of the entire U.S. energy sector combined. As such, it only makes sense for Apple to start expanding upwards—specifically, into the stars.

New reports are emerging which suggest that the Big Tech firm is working on developing satellites to support its iOS devices. Though details about the project are highly speculative at this point the news isn’t particularly surprising. With satellite technology, Apple would be able to drastically improve its navigation services and possibly decrease reliance on mobile carrier networks.

Apple in the Stars

Bloomberg initially reported that Apple is working on a very secretive satellite project that could be in use within five years. However, considering that the initiative is still in the very early stages it could be scrapped before ever seeing action.

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On top of this, it isn’t clear what Apple’s endgame is. Many industry experts believe that the iPhone maker is working on a satellite-based data transfer system for its devices. This could be very useful if it is true. With access to its own network of satellites, Apple could finally create a maps service worthy of rivaling Google’s.

Likewise, it could use satellites to bypass the networks of traditional mobile carriers. This would give iOS users the ability to send and receive data (and perhaps even text messages) without a carrier connection. We’ve already seen Apple revolutionize data transfer with Airdrop. Taking things a step further isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.

The project seems to have the support of Apple CEO Tim Cook, which is a good sign for its future. Currently, the company has a dozen engineers working on the satellite initiative. That number is expected to grow as things become more serious. Aerospace engineers and former Google employees Michael Trela and John Fenwick are currently leading the project. The duo has a history of working on satellites prior to joining Apple in 2017.

Joining the Ranks

The idea of private companies launching satellite networks isn’t novel—nor has it worked out well in the past. However, that hasn’t stifled the tech industry’s interest in the stars. Apple joins the ranks of other companies like Amazon and SpaceX who are also working on their own satellite initiatives.

As of now, it isn’t clear if Apple wants to develop its own constellation of satellites like the two firms mentioned above or if it will use data from other companies’ satellites. Considering that the rest of the iOS infrastructure doesn’t play well with others, the latter is unlikely.

Though Apple’s new satellite initiative has an uphill battle ahead of it things are looking good so far. Under the control of Tim Cook, the company has increased its research and development spending by $16 billion in 2019, a 14 percent increase from last year.

For Apple fans, the prospect of iSatellites is certainly intriguing. For the tech industry, it will be interesting to see if Apple can pioneer another decade-defining infrastructure in the 2020s, this time in the stars.

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