"Those jobs aren't coming back." That's what Steve Jobs said when President Obama asked him whether Apple would ever consider manufacturing its popular products in the U.S. But Jobs' successor, Tim Cook, has other ideas. In interviews with Bloomberg Businessweek and NBC News, Cook has revealed that in 2013, Apple will invest $100 million in manufacturing computers in the U.S. "I don't think we have a responsibility to create a certain kind of job," Cook told Bloomberg. "But I think we do have a responsibility to create jobs."
Cook didn't specify which product would be manufactured in the U.S., though it's been noted that the new iMac already bears the label "Assembled in the U.S.A.," making it a likely contender. Cook acknowledged that Apple won't literally make the products, but would continue its practice of hiring contractors to manufacture various elements. Cook also reminded his interviewers that some components — such as the iPhone's glass screen — are already being made in the U.S.
However, it would be just a tad naive to chalk up Apple's move to purely patriotic motives. (Indeed, Cook himself oversaw Apple's broad shift to China in the 1990s when he was the company's head of operations.) As the most valuable company in history, Apple has come under criticism for hiring a paltry number of American workers. There are 43,000 people directly employed by Apple in the U.S., while the bulk of its 700,000 contract workers live overseas, mainly in China.
Furthermore, Apple's largest manufacturing partner, Foxconn, has come under intense scrutiny over the workplace conditions at its Chinese factories. Reports of suicides, explosions, and labor-law violations have emerged like a parade of horribles from the assembly lines where iPhones are made.
In other words, it's easy to see Cook's announcement as a move to generate some feel-good publicity. While $100 million may sound like a serious down payment on the can-do spirit of the American worker, it's chump change for Apple, which made $8 billion in the last quarter and has been routinely criticized for having no idea what to do with all its money. In addition, it's telling that the iMac — a desktop behemoth that was long ago eclipsed in popularity by the iPhone and the iPad — is the only Apple product currently being assembled in the U.S.
Still, some analysts see the announcement as a possible harbinger of a new wave of in-sourcing, reversing the decades-long trend of exporting manufacturing jobs to China. "It's a start," says Paul Thurrott at Windows IT Pro, "hopefully one that will garner positive feedback and trigger more manufacturing — and jobs — in Apple's home country."