Google's Project Loon balloons can beam signals to iPhones, too

The head of the secretive lab Google X says its Internet-service balloons will work with Apple's mobile operating system, iOS, as well as the company's own Android.

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Joan E. Solsman
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Google X chief Astro Teller, speaking at the Tribeca Film Festival, said his lab's Project Loon is capable of steering Internet-connectivity balloons to within a couple hundred yards of a target. Joan E. Solsman/CNET

NEW YORK -- Google may be able to pinpoint the location of its stratospheric Internet balloons with military precision, but it won't be combative about the kinds of phones that can connect.

Astro Teller, the head of search giant's Google X research lab, said Wednesday that its Project Loon would provide Internet connectivity via high-altitude balloons to both Android and iOS devices, embracing the mobile operating systems of both its own parent company and that of rival Apple. He was speaking at a presentation at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The inclusiveness jibes with Google X's mission to solve major world problems with radical technologies. If you're chasing a goal of providing Internet connectivity to the two-thirds of the world's population without it, there isn't much sense to limiting the access to a single operating system. At the end of last year, Android held 76.6 percent of the worldwide smartphone market, but Apple represented a 19.7 percent share, according to research firm IDC.

Teller also said that company has polished its control of the balloons, designed to provide Internet access in hard-to-reach regions, to the point that it can steer them 10,000 miles to within a few hundred yards of where they need to be.

Last week, Google X said the Internet-balloon project was closer to becoming commercially available.

Separately on Wednesday, Google unveiled another way it wants to get on smartphones: a new wireless service in the US, called Project Fi. The company is aiming to set itself apart from carriers like Verizon and AT&T by only charging customers for data they actually use. For now, the program is by invitation only and available solely on Google's Nexus 6 smartphone.