Why Apple Products Are Manufactured in China

Fascinating well-researched investigative report by Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher for the New York Times, on the rise of China as a manufacturing power and the corresponding effect on middle class jobs in the U.S., with Apple as the case study. Includes this heretofore unknown (to me, at least) story on the original iPhone’s last-minute change from a plastic to glass display:

In 2007, a little over a month before the iPhone was scheduled to appear in stores, Mr. Jobs beckoned a handful of lieutenants into an office. For weeks, he had been carrying a prototype of the device in his pocket.

Mr. Jobs angrily held up his iPhone, angling it so everyone could see the dozens of tiny scratches marring its plastic screen, according to someone who attended the meeting. He then pulled his keys from his jeans.

People will carry this phone in their pocket, he said. People also carry their keys in their pocket. “I won’t sell a product that gets scratched,” he said tensely. The only solution was using unscratchable glass instead. “I want a glass screen, and I want it perfect in six weeks.”

After one executive left that meeting, he booked a flight to Shenzhen, China. If Mr. Jobs wanted perfect, there was nowhere else to go.

The Times has quotes from former and present (unnamed in the latter case, of course) executives who all paint the same picture: that Chinese manufacturing isn’t merely cheaper, but also perhaps even more importantly, nimbler, more flexible, and faster:

“They could hire 3,000 people overnight,” said Jennifer Rigoni, who was Apple’s worldwide supply demand manager until 2010, but declined to discuss specifics of her work. “What U.S. plant can find 3,000 people overnight and convince them to live in dorms?”

Saturday, 21 January 2012