Every once in a while you hear about an innovation, and it blows your mind.
This is a story about a secret project that Apple is reportedly working on that could fall into that category.
It all goes back almost 13 years, to when Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone.
Seriously, check out that announcement video now. It was masterful, and it's amazing to remember how people reacted with awe to things we now take for granted.
Scrolling, and a "real" browser, and no stylus? It set the tech world on its ear, even as Jobs was unveiling a phone that didn't quite work yet.
And yet, there was one big restriction people noticed almost immediately.
The big limitation
Even with everyone's excitement at the time, there was no getting away from the fact that the iPhone was originally available within the U.S. only with AT&T.
There's no reason now to get into how good AT&T's service is or was back in 2007. But it highlights just how handcuffed Apple (or any phone innovator) was to the wireless networks.
Sure, Apple and its competitors could make the most amazing hardware, and design incredible software.
But without a robust network -- which was controlled by unrelated third party, partner companies -- an iPhone on its own would be nothing but a sleek little box.
Now, fast forward nearly a baker's dozen years.
Bloomberg is reporting that a small team of Apple scientists, apparently just 12 of them, is working on a secret project that could provide a workaround:
Apple Inc. has a secret team working on satellite technology that the iPhone maker could use to beam internet services directly to devices, bypassing wireless networks, according to people familiar with the work.
The Cupertino, California-based iPhone maker has about a dozen engineers from the aerospace, satellite and antenna design industries working on the project with the goal of deploying their results within five years, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing internal company efforts.
$16 billion in R&D
The project could possibly fail or be abandoned, Bloomberg cautions, but the report also adds that this project has the support of Apple CEO Tim Cook, "indicating it's a company priority."
Bloomberg also details some of the personnel setbacks involved so far. Plus, we're talking about a team of just 12 people, with a five-year deliverability window.
(Counterpoint: During fiscal year 2019, Apple spent a staggering $16 billion on research and design.)
If Apple were successful here, the disruption would be hard to calculate. We should also acknowledge that there are other big companies trying to do something like this.
For example, Google's parent company Alphabet has Loon, offering internet connections via high-altitude balloons, and Amazon, Amazon, SpaceX, OneWeb, and Facebook are all in the race to create networks of satellites to provide internet access, perhaps worldwide.
A $1 trillion industry
Whichever company succeeds in supplanting the wireless carriers could make giant inroads into a $1 trillion industry, according to Dun & Bradstreet.
Actually, that was the 2018 figure; it's projected to hit $1.14 trillion by 2025.
Regardless, think back to 2007.
Or maybe even back to just before you read this article.
Did it occur to you that the phone manufacturers could find a way to skip over the network providers?
Me neither. Back in 2007, when I got my first generation iPhone (on AT&T, of course), it would have blown my mind.
Right up there with scrolling.