Not only is China Apple’s largest manufacturer– Macs, iPhones, iPads– the country may already be Apple’s largest customer. Sure, Apple is headquartered in Cupertino, California in the good old U.S. of A., but what is printed on the back of each iPhone these days?
Design. Make. Sell.
It doesn’t take much effort to see that Apple is proud that it designs products in the U.S., though I wonder how much of the internal ‘design’ is California vs. China these days.
Apple goes out of its way to tell the world that the iPhone was designed in California but merely assembled in China.
Assembled is probably the correct word, too. iPhone parts and components come from all over the world; China, Korea, Japan, the U.S., Taiwan, and elsewhere– all to be assembled in China.
China’s new age of prosperity hasn’t been ignored by Apple, either. CEO Tim Cook once said that China would overtake the U.S. as Apple’s largest source of revenue and even more of the company’s profits.
That day is here or will be soon.
When China’s growing middle class accounts for more of Apple’s revenue and profits than the U.S. or Europe or any other marketplace on planet earth, does that make Apple less of an American company and more of a Chinese company?
Designed by Apple in California is the correct phrase and is more telling than ever regarding the company’s relationship with China as a market, China as a manufacturing partner, and China as it grows to an ever more prominent position in the technology world.
For iPhone and iPad, and most Macs, Apple buys parts from vendors the world over, then hires factories in China to assemble the parts. Apple does not own the factories, but has some skin in the manufacturing game by ensuring select vendors have the proper manufacturing equipment and materials to build products in ways other makers cannot.
Unanswered are questions about Apple’s present and future. How much influence does the Chinese government have on Apple’s designs and manufacturing process? What would happen if China demanded that Apple include a security ‘back door’ in iOS in exchange for the privilege of building products in China?
Does China’s growing influence as vendor, manufacturer, and market– a complex relationship given China’s notoriously mercurial politics– mean that Apple has become more Chinese centric than American centric? I prefer to adhere to the basic digital rag axiom known as Betteridge’s Law of Headlines.
Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.
In the case of Apple’s China connection, I’m not so sure anymore.
Apple is a diversified company with many product lines that create enormous profits from a tightly wound ecosystem that benefits customers, vendors, manufacturers alike. Maybe the company needs to find a manufacturing partner that is not so easily influenced by a centrist government that could easily disrupt the supply and manufacturing chain for political gain.