What it is: Apple recently hired two satellite specialists from Google. The big question is why?
Most companies don’t own their own satellites or even care anything about them. If a company needs services that a satellite provides, they can just buy those services from a vendor who takes care of all the details about running and managing a satellite in orbit. Yet Apple recently hired two satellite experts away from Google. Why would Apple need their own satellite experts?
Satellites can be used for mapping, but it’s far cheaper to simply buy satellite imagery from another company rather than hire your own satellite experts. What’s likely he reason Apple wants satellite expertise is because Apple needs satellites for communication.
When Apple first came up with the iPhone, Steve Jobs actually wanted to have it run on its own network. Since that proved impossible at the time, Apple had to partner with a limited number of carriers such as AT&T in the United States. These carriers often created a poor user experience for these early iPhone users, but as more carriers offered the iPhone, fewer people complained about their carriers when using an iPhone.
So one possible reason Apple wants their own satellite experts is to create their own communication network. This could provide better coverage in rural areas without putting up cellular towers everywhere. A big bonus would be that Apple could control the total iPhone experience and cut the traditional wireless carriers out of the loop.
A second, more likely reason is that Apple plans to develop a self-driving car platform. That means constant communication with an Apple Car no matter where it goes on the roads. Since many roads go through rural areas where cellular phone coverage isn’t available, satellite coverage may be the only option.
Self-driving cars rely on artificial intelligence and artificial intelligence relies on collecting as much data as possible to learn from. Voice assistants like Siri rely on a cellular network to send data for collection and processing to a server. This server then sends the results back to the user’s Siri-powered device such as an iPhone or iPad. This keeps the processing of natural languages on servers, freeing up processing power and storage space on the user’s device.
Self-driving cars using machine learning will be no different. Early self-driving cars aren’t likely going to have a supercomputer on board to process driving data. Instead, self-driving cars will stay connected to a server to provide that server with driving data. Then that server will gradually get smarter about driving and provide each self-driving car on the road with improved algorithms for driving.
So Apple’s satellite interests likely lie in self-driving cars. Of course, such as network could also double as a distinct worldwide carrier network of its own, which Apple is likely eyeing at the same time, but the more immediate use for satellites will be for self-driving cars.
Self-driving cars are coming faster than people expect. By developing expertise in satellites today, Apple is preparing for the inevitable future. After all, controlling as much of your product as possible is Apple’s goal, so an Apple satellite network seems likely in the near future for both making phone calls and machine learning for self-driving cars.