In light of Donald Trump’s utterly bizarre statements regarding his plan to “close off parts of the Internet” to terrorists, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Presidential hopeful has a rather weak grasp of technology related issues. But on the off-chance that you gave Trump the benefit of the doubt, the outspoken business tycoon proved once and for all just how little he understands about technology in particular, and in a broader sense, the economic realities that govern mass production of consumer electronics.
While speaking at Liberty University on Monday, Trump said that he would make sure Apple “builds their damn computers in this country” if elected President. Apple of course, not to mention most major hardware companies in the U.S., outsource the vast majority of their manufacturing to factories in China. Apparently the idea of non-Americans assembling iPhones, Apple Watches, and iPads doesn’t sit will with Trump’s grand vision to “make America great again.”
Trump’s full statement reads as follows: “We have such amazing people in this country: smart, sharp, energetic, they’re amazing. I was saying ‘make America great again’, and I actually think we can say now, and I really believe this, we’re gonna get things coming. We’re gonna get Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country, instead of in other countries.”
It all sounds great, but the reality is that Trump’s bombastic statements regarding Apple’s manufacturing process are completely misguided, and belie his fundamental lack of understanding about the topic.
Before delving into why Trump’s remarks make little sense, it’s worth noting that President Barack Obama once asked Steve Jobs if it might be possible to manufacture iPhones and other Apple products in the United States. Jobs’ response? “Those jobs aren’t coming back.”
While it’s easy to proclaim that Apple outsources device manufacturing abroad because the labor is cheaper, the issue is a tad more layered than that. Truth be told, for the scale of production Apple needs to churn out over 100 million iOS devices every single year, U.S.-based factories simply can’t keep up because they’re not built for that level of specialized production.
Remember, China-based manufacturing companies like Foxconn are highly oiled machines solely focused on manufacturing consumer electronics in incredibly high volume. As a result, Foxconn employs thousands of employees across all facets of the manufacturing process, many of whom possess specialized and unique skills that can’t be found in sufficient volume in the U.S.
As the New York Times noted on the topic a few years ago, Apple has stringent manufacturing needs that simply can’t be met outside of China.
One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.
Cost aside, sources close to Tim Cook told the Times that Apple also keeps device production in China because of how flexible and adaptable the entire process is, whether they need to scale up production to meet pent up demand or quickly scale production down when demand falls short of expectations.
“The entire supply chain is in China now,” said another former high-ranking Apple executive. “You need a thousand rubber gaskets? That’s the factory next door. You need a million screws? That factory is a block away. You need that screw made a little bit different? It will take three hours.”
More recently, Cook addressed the topic-head-on during a 60 Minutes with Charlie Rose that aired just a few week sago.
“China put an enormous focus on manufacturing,” Cook said to Rose. “The U.S., over time, began to stop having as many vocational kind of skills. I mean, you can take every tool and die maker in the United States and probably put them in a room that we’re currently sitting in. In China, you would have to have multiple football fields.”
These days, Apple does manufacture the Mac Pro in the United States, but it’s a low-volume product that hasn’t been updated since 2013.
Over and above that, and as pointed out by Gizmodo, a sitting U.S. President doesn’t have the ability or authority to outright prevent a company from outsourcing labor abroad.
Anyhow, a clip of Trump’s statement can be viewed below.