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Applesauce: All Things Apple – December 9, 2012

Dec 09, 12 Applesauce: All Things Apple – December 9, 2012

This week, Apple may have created 200 jobs and saved thousands more. According to some Tim Cook interviews, Apple is ready to begin making one of their Mac lines in the US as early as next year. Some have estimated this will create 200 American jobs, which is always a good thing. Later in the week, T-Mobile announced that they’ve finally worked it out to sell the iPhone, thereby saving all those T-Mobile jobs which were likely to be lost if they continued to be the only major American carrier without the iPhone. Yes, Apple will guide us all to fiscal safety one day, all we need to do is be patient and wait for it.

Made In the USA

At 5:30 AM on November 30, the first day Apple’s latest iMacs became available, an Apple support forum member wrote: “The box my new iMac came in had a sticker that read “Assembled in America”. Does that mean that this iMac was made in the US or was it just the actual box that was “Assembled in America”. I was under the impression that Apple made all of their products in China.”

Some other forum members commented on this thread, wondering if the machine was a refurbished model and if a third party retailer was selling refurbs as brand new gear. The conversation didn’t last long as the original poster noted the back of the computer also read “Assembled in the USA.”

This forum poster (I’m refraining from using the name because of it’s ridiculousness) probably wasn’t the first to notice or say anything about this subtle change to these new models, but this story illustrates just how closely Apple fans look at their gear and, subsequently, just how quickly this news was spread about the Internet.

In the days since these new all-in-ones became available, several Web sites have asked the same question: Are Apple’s new iMacs made in America?

Not EVERY new iMac is made in the USA, of course, as many users have found that their machines still bear the familiar “Designed by Apple in California, Assembled in China” stamp. There have been a significant amount of machines shipped to actual customers which claim to have been made stateside and, true to Apple form, they had yet to make any official statement about these American born iMacs.

That is, until Thursday morning when both Bloomberg Businessweek and NBC posted transcripts of brand new interviews with Tim Cook.

It appears as if Apple, in the last few weeks of the year, has sent Cook on a mission of peace and good will, telling all the land that Apple will, in fact, begin building “A Mac Line” in the USA by 2013.

Cook was careful to mention that it wouldn’t be Apple themselves who are building these new macs come 2013, but they are investing heavily, somewhere to the tune of $100 million, to bring this part of production to the land of the free and home of the brave.

Before I go any further, there are 2 very important aspects about Apple’s personality to remember here.

First, as we’ve recently seen with the new iMacs, Apple likes to wait until the very last second to make good on their promises. Granted, 2013 is a very large target and, truth be told, I expect Apple to narrow this date down sometime in the near future. Otherwise, we’d see the first new Macs roll out of an American plant in nearly 20 years on December 31, 2013.

Secondly, Apple does things slowly. They like to make gradual changes quietly and discreetly, testing out different methods and techniques before they go whole hog on the thing.

It’s their LiquidMetal SIM card puller all over again.

Rather than begin building entire phones and computers with LiquidMetal, they began small with card pullers to see how the material worked and how easily they could produce small elements with this new material. It’s brilliant, really.

Therefore, some believe these new American iMacs were a part of this slow rollout, testing out some assembly processes and shipping these Macs as a “Dress Rehearsal” of sorts.

Apple will want to do a little more testing before they move everything to the States.

This leaves one clear candidate for a new, American made Mac line.

That damned Mac Pro.

Many pro users have been looking to Apple to revamp the Mac Pro for well over 2 years now, and as each Apple event draws closer, some rumor pops up somewhere suggesting that it could be really real this time, that Apple could finally release an upgraded Mac Pro.

They’ve yet to do it.

Well, I suppose that isn’t entirely true.

Apple casually and quietly tweaked the Mac Pro line whilst many of their pro users (developers) were at WWDC 2012.

The Mac Pro was never mentioned during Apple’s keynote presentation, but as developers left the hall and began checking out the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display, they noticed a small, blue “New” tag next to the Mac Pro.

Apple later removed this tag as customers complained that the Mac Pro wasn’t really “new,” so much as it was now shipping in different configurations.

The Mac Pro As Guinea Pig

Alexander Hoffman with the blog MangoChutney makes some really good points about what Apple could be building in their American plants.

In his opinion, Apple will start with the Mac Pro.

At $2,500 to $3,000 per (and they can easily reach upwards of 4 grand) Apple doesn’t need to worry about cranking these things out in droves.

It’ll be a nice, slow transition to figure out each part of the process and get all the players on the same page. Additionally, these customers aren’t going to notice or even mind any slight increase in price.

It’s just like buying a car: Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that you’ll be dropping some serious cash towards a purchase, the extra $300 wheels don’t seem like a lot of money.

(I’ve never bought a car, so I don’t know if $300 is a good price for wheels.)

The cost of producing a machine in the US likely won’t be $300, but these pros are ready to spend nearly 4 grand on a machine. They probably won’t mind a slight surcharge for the “Assembled in the USA” stamp on the back of their computers, should one exist.

And while all this news is seemingly good—more jobs for Americans, more money into the economy, etc— I can’t shake this one single thought:

“Steve would have never done this.”

Tim Cook was the logistics man when Steve was on board and was even responsible for moving some of the production to China in  pursuit of Apple’s legendary and efficient supply chain. Making this move made great fiscal sense, and while I believe Jobs first and foremost wanted to make the world’s best products, he also knew that Apple needed as much money as they could get to continue doing so without having to rely on partners or handouts.

Both Cook and Jobs have said they’re fine with letting other companies handle certain aspects of Apple’s business, so long as the contracts are right and these other companies in question are good at what they do.

Familiar Friends In An Unfamiliar Land

A few days after Cook embarked on his “Coming to America 2013 Media Tour,” Foxconn announced that they, too, were looking to expand to the States. Louis Woo, a Foxconn spokesperson, was very careful not to get too specific, but the timing of these stories is easy to see as no small coincidence. “We are looking at doing more manufacturing in the US because, in general, customers want more to be done there,” said Woo in an interview with Bloomberg. I’m not sure how many people have noticed the very large and glaring differences between America and China, but as Woo also points out, there will be some challenges in bringing a Foxconn plant to the US of A.

“Supply chain is one of the big challenges for US expansion,” said Woo. “In addition, any manufacturing we take back to the US needs to leverage high-value engineering talent there in comparison to the low-cost labor of China.”

Whoever is responsible for bringing these Apple factories to America, we know for certain that the company will be plugging in $100 million to get the thing off the ground. In another Bloomberg piece, one economist has said he expects this $100 million will bring create around 200 jobs, a mere fraction of those employed by Foxconn in China. According to Dan Luria, a labor economist at Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center in Plymouth, Michigan, this investment “sounds like a 200-job operation with about a million-unit output,” For what it’s worth, Michael Hasler, associate academic director for the Supply Chain Management Center of Excellence at the University of Texas, thinks an American partnership between Apple and Foxconn is likely. Hasler also believes (and rightly so) bringing these jobs to America would be a great PR move for Apple.

“There is some PR aspect to it and there is also a lot of data out there that show it can make good business sense from a manufacturing perspective to bring that back to the US,” said Hasler. Bloomberg also points out that Lenovo has recently announced plans to begin putting 100 people to work to build some of their computers in a North Carolina factory.

The Big Pink iPhone

Finally, let’s end with finally laying an old rumor to rest.

For years, or at least, as many years as the iPhone has been a thing, customers have wondered when other American carriers would be allowed to sell Apple’s Jesus Phone. AT&T had exclusive rights to the phone from 2007 to 2011 when Verizon and Sprint jumped on board.

America, in all her prosperity, is fortunate to have 4 major cellular providers, and yet, only 3 of them carry one of America’s (and the world’s) most popular electronic devices of all time.

Oh, but it’s certainly not from lack of trying.

T-Mobile has done all they can to entice iPhone users to hop on their (till recently) significantly slower network.

T-Mobile has mostly been the corporate version of the all-too-eager teenage girl with a crush. They’ve bent over backwards to not only prove that they really REALLY want the iPhone, they’ll even accept being anywhere in the vicinity.

When more than 1 million people had unlocked their iPhones and slapped some T-Mobile SIM cards inside, they didn’t mind.

They’ve been tidying up their network to attract even more iPhone users and have even given them special deals if they’ll just bring an Apple phone to their networks.

T-Mobile isn’t above stalking iPhone users, either.

This summer, they set up a special iPhone-friendly “4G” HSPA+ network at Moscone West in San Francisco while iPhone toting developers attended this year’s WWDC.

Now, it looks as if the actions of T-Mobile have finally won over Apple’s heart. Either this, or Apple has finally been worn down and is tired of having that pink leather-clad mascot drive by 1 Infinite Loop at all hours of the night.

Those little crotch-rockets get pretty loud.

“T-Mobile USA has entered into an agreement with Apple to bring products to market together next year,” reads a statement from T-Mobile earlier this week, and apparently this announcement could not have come soon enough.

At the Deutsche Telekom conference on Thursday, T-Mobile’s CEO John Legere admitted what we had all known for years: Not having the iPhone was killing their business.

“What was missing? A certain number of customers wouldn’t come to the store if we didn’t have the iPhone,” Legere said. “We worked very, very hard for a deal that made sense for us.”

The T-Mo iPhone (or iPhone in Pink, as I’ll be referring to it) will also sell in a slightly different way. T-Mobile has rejected the idea of paying subsidies for their phones, meaning the customers will have to pay full price for their iPhones.

A company as desperate as T-Mobile has been for the past 5 years is obviously very willing to bring customers in, however.

Instead of subsidies, T-Mo will give customers the option to more or less “lease” their iPhones, paying a down payment of $99 and then $15 to $20 each month until they pay off the phone.

T-Mobile will also allow any customer to upgrade to the iPhone when they want, regardless of where they are in the contract, (which is a very dumb rule those other carriers insist on enforcing for some reason) and will continue to offer unlimited data with a smaller price tag: All the things a T-Mobile will need to do to win over customers who are either looking for a deal or are entirely fed up with their current carrier.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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