Apple’s decision to make some of its computers in the United States shows how little assembly costs matter in the global computer market
Apple’s decision to make some of its computers in the United States may be a positive for American jobs. It is certainly a marker of where much of the global computer industry has gone.
Today, rising energy prices and a global market for computers are changing the way companies make their machines. Hewlett-Packard, which turns out over 50 million computers a year through its own plants and subcontractors, makes many of its larger desktop personal computers in such higher-cost areas as Indianapolis and Tokyo to save on fuel costs and to serve business buyers rapidly. “It’s important that they get an order in five days, and there is a pride for the local consumer to see a sticker that says ‘Made in Tokyo,’” says Tony Prophet, senior vice president of operations for HP’s PCs and printers. Five years ago, he says, HP supplied most of Europe’s desktops from China, but today it manufactures in the Czech Republic, Turkey and Russia instead.
HP sells those kinds of computers particularly to business customers. The Macs that Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, talked about making in the United States are likewise large machines, though it is not clear if Apple is doing so to pursue more enterprise business. The iPhones and iPads will still apparently be made in China.
If Cook is bringing his computer assembly back to the United States, it will probably be for larger, lower-value goods that Apple wants to sell locally, said Rob Enderle, an analyst in San Jose, California, who has been following the industry for a quarter-century. “A big-value product, like an iPhone or an iPad, would be a bigger deal,” he said. “Cook is looking to give Apple some good news. He doesn’t want people thinking about Apple as a declining company that Steve Jobs used to run.”
Computer manufacturers have shipped work overseas for decades. At first it was considered prestigious. In 1998, President Bill Clinton visited a Gateway Computer factory outside Dublin to cheer the role of American manufacturers in the rise of a “Celtic Tiger” in technology. That plant was shut in 2001, when Gateway elected to save costs by manufacturing in China. Dell, which made its mark by developing lean manufacturing techniques in Texas, closed its showcase Austin factory in 2008 as part