Apple is reportedly hiring engineers to help deliver a satellite project that would beam internet services directly to devices without the aid of mobile networks.
Bloomberg reports that Apple has an early stage project with about 12 engineers from the aerospace, satellite and antenna design industries who hope to launch the project within five years.
Exactly what Apple is cooking up is not clear and it could have many different interpretations. The company is expected to launch a 5G iPhone in 2020, as usual a little later than rivals. Apple is also focussing more on services these days, which makes the idea of it providing internet connectivity directly to iPhone users from a SpaceX-like satellite constellation a tantalizing prospect.
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Apparently Apple CEO Tim Cook has shown interest in the project but Bloomberg's source said that a clear direction and use for satellites has not been finalized.
Bloomberg reports that Apple's "work on communications satellites and next-generation wireless technology means the aim is likely to beam data to a user's device, potentially mitigating the dependence on wireless carriers, or for linking devices together without a traditional network."
The second piece of speculation at least fits with some recent moves, such as what Apple describes as "the groundbreaking capability of distributed finding of an offline Mac" with its Find My app. The app works offline by devices emitting short range Bluetooth signals that are picked up by other Apple devices, creating a kind of mesh network.
Apple could also be hiring engineers with satellite experience just to improve maps and location-tracking services, which again could feed into its services business.
Bloomberg notes that it isn't known whether Apple wants to launch something on the scale of SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet program, which recently launched 60 small satellites into low Earth orbit. But other internet giants looking at space for tomorrow's internet include Facebook and Amazon, which is planning to launch over 3,000 satellites into low Earth orbit.