Apple hires two Google satellite execs for 'new hardware team'

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Apple has reportedly hired two executives from Google's satellite division to head up "a new hardware team," with goals that are still unclear.

The two people include John Fenwick, Google's head of spacecraft operations, and Michael Trela, who was in charge of satellite engineering, Bloomberg said on Friday. In February, Google confirmed a deal to sell off its satellite mapping business, Terra Bella, to Planet Labs. Google's parent company Alphabet likely wanted to cut out the expense of launching and running satellites.

Fenwick and Trela are reporting to Dropcam co-founder Greg Duffy, who joined Apple in January, according to Bloomberg sources. Duffy's hiring was confirmed by Apple but likewise mysterious, with other sources only hinting that he was probably working on a special project.

The new hires were at one point co-founders of Skybox Imaging, a satellite imaging startup Google bought in 2014 for $500 million. It designed fridge-sized satellites capable of producing detailed, rapidly-updated images of the Earth's surface.

Apple could conceivably want to launch its own satellite cluster, which would provide it with proprietary data for Apple Maps instead of having to rely on third parties. Such a project might cost billions however, and involve hiring many more people.

Bloomberg noted that aerospace giant Boeing has allegedly talked to Apple about investing in a project to put over 1,000 satellites in low Earth orbit for expanding internet access. Boeing's technology would purportedly offer faster-than-cellular speeds.

For Apple this would presumably increase the appeal of its devices and services, guaranteeing access even in places normally cut off from broadband. Unlike other companies that have explored global internet, such as Google and Facebook, Apple wouldn't gain any significant advertising revenue.