Can America Make the iPhone? (Hint: It's Not About The Labor Cost)

Back in February, President Obama surprised Steve Jobs with a question of what it would take to make the iPhones in the United States, rather than China.

Jobs replied that the iPhone could never be made in the United States ... and no, it's not because American labor costs (in fact, labor cost is a tiny fraction of the cost of making an iPhone). It's because America simply doesn't have the manufacturing might anymore:

“Apple’s an example of why it’s so hard to create middle-class jobs in the U.S. now,” said Jared Bernstein, who until last year was an economic adviser to the White House.

“If it’s the pinnacle of capitalism, we should be worried.”

Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”

Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher wrote this intriguing article over at The New York Times about the death of manufacturing and the disappearing American middle class - if you read only one thing today, make it this one: Link | TLDR? Here it is in video summary


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Has nobody heard of robots?
Automation of iPhone assembly is not terribly difficult, and even if it were, treat it as a challenge to develop more-capable robots.
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I don't understand this "explanation" - obviously 24 hour slave labor is more convenient to Apple execs who want to hold a factory to strict deadlines that they, themselves, wont follow... but how catastrophically would profits be affected if apple had to limit last minute redesigns, or to push back a release date? Would the entire corporation collapse? Are price points so strictly researched that Apple is certain no one would pay an extra $50 for a phone that already costs $400?

Oh well, at least he was being honest.
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working conditions (benefits, healthcare, safety, etc.) IS labor costs.

Example in my company : My truck drivers needs a driving licence, an open-road permit, a crane permit, a loader permit, all of those needs to be assessed every 5 years or so, including numerous (re)training sessions ; then he needs safety shoes, googles, a hard hat, and gloves. Ok now he can drive his truck or loader : but for safety issues the truck and loader are checked by an outside company every two years ; the truck includes as well a very expensive mandatory electronic speed and time control : the driver of course has to stay within authorized speed limits, but he has also to comply to mandatory rest stops.

All this is just the tip of the iceberg why we Americans or Europeans cannot compete with social dumping. We cannot make our society progress in quality and still compete head front with people stuck in our XIXth century...
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