Tim Cook’s announcement that Apple would start manufacturing Macs in the U.S. was like all Apple announcements, said Mike Cassidy in the San Jose Mercury News: “highly choreographed, big on buzz, light on details, and devoid of any follow-up answers.” In interviews with Bloomberg Businessweek and NBC, the CEO said Apple would spend $100 million next year to produce a Mac model in the U.S. “He didn’t say which model,” or “how many people would be employed, or even why Apple was making the move.” And forget about a Mac being manufactured here from start to finish, as the U.S. no longer makes all the components that go into one. Still, “there is no reason not to cheer the news.” It could be a small first step on the journey “from Shenzhen to the U.S.”
“Small is the operative word here,” said Tom Gara in The Wall Street Journal. Apple’s new investment in the U.S. is a sliver of the $9.5 billion it spent on manufacturing in 2012. It’s hardly enough to even dent Asia’s status as the center of the tech world’s supply chain. Still, “Apple is well known for skating to where the puck is going, not where it is.” The company sees that manufacturing costs are rising in China and falling in the U.S., and it may be betting that the gap could close further. There’s more in this equation than manufacturing costs, said Quentin Hardy in The New York Times. Today the cost of labor that goes into a laptop “is only slightly higher than the cost of shipping by air,” and transportation prices are still climbing. Sure, it would have been a bigger deal if Apple had said it was shifting production of its hotter iPads and iPhones here. But business clients in particular want their products delivered quickly. That’s why it could make real economic sense for Apple to assemble “larger, lower-value goods” like Macs closer to where it sells them: right here in the U.S.
I’m not convinced, said Jordan Weissmann in TheAtlantic.com.“It’s too early to tell whether this is a meaningful experiment, or a PR move by a corporation that’s been skewered for its labor practices.” Apple has taken a lot of heat for the “dire factory conditions” that Foxconn, its main manufacturing partner, maintains in China. There’s no doubt that we’re seeing some major shifts in “the geography of global manufacturing,” and that the U.S. will profit from those developments. But we’ll only know in another few years whether Apple’s new investment is a real milestone or just “an attempt at currying a bit of public goodwill.”