Apple will never make the iPhone in the United States, here is why

Apple will never make the iPhone in the United States, here is why
The main issue that prevents Apple from manufacturing the iPhone in the United States may go totally unnoticed in the grand scheme of things – a simple screw. Obviously, it's not just the screws that make assembling and manufacturing iPhones in the U.S. close to impossible, but that's one of the main problems that Apple, and other smartphone companies, confronted with when trying to move phone manufacturing outside of China.

A comprehensive The New York Times article highlights some of the problems that Apple would have to face if it decides to move manufacturing operations from China to the United States. The trade war between the two countries is heating up after the United States recently announced that it files charges against China's Huawei CFO for stealing trade secrets.

But even before tension between the two countries escalated to this point, President Donald Trump demanded that Apple should begin manufacturing the iPhone in the United States:

Alas, building one or more manufacturing plants in the U.S. would not solve the issues Apple will face after moving its business operations from China. First off, Apple completely relies on China's ability to adapt to any manufacturing requirement from changing the number of screws or mainboards to be made, to the size of the smartphone components.

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The screw screwed up Apple

There's a suggestive example in The New York Time's piece, which offers a devastating image on Apple's inability to make its own products in the U.S. rather than outsourcing them to Chinese companies.

Back in 2012, Tim Cook announced that Apple will start making a Mac computer in the U.S., the first Apple product to be fully manufactured by American workers – the Mac Pro. Unfortunately, Apple's plant in Austin, Texas, struggled to find enough screws needed for the Mac Pro, as Apple was relying on a manufacturing contractor in the U.S. which could only produce 1,000 screws per day.

But the screw shortage was only one of the main issues that prevented Apple from keeping its promise and make the Mac Pro in the U.S. These problems led to months of delay and ultimately forced Apple to order screws from China to be able to finally launch the Mac Pro on the market.

That was the turnaround moment that convinced Apple that manufacturing the iPhone or any other of its products in the U.S. would be impossible. No other country was able to match China's level of skills, infrastructure, volume, and cost at that time, and things haven't changed to this day.

Another problem Apple faces if it were to manufacture the iPhone in the U.S. is the cost. According to the Cupertino-based company, starting pay for workers assembling its products in China was $3.15 per hour, but a similar job in the U.S. would be paid much better. Normally, that would lead to lower profits for Apple, but much of the assembly costs would be reflected in the product's price, which would increase exponentially.

Not to mention that workers in China work in shifts at all hours and, sometimes, they're bothered from their sleep to meet production goals, something that it's simply not possible in the U.S. The only solution to this problem would be for Apple to heavily invest in robotics and specialized engineers rather than hiring a huge amount workers paid with minimum wages.

So, it's not that work in China is much cheaper, but also the fact that you can order hundreds of thousands of workers to work all night to meet production goals has become an essential part of the manufacturing business.

Apple looking for new ways to diversify supply chain

Although Apple's business is strongly tied with China, the company was forced to find alternatives after the Trump administration threatened to place tariffs on phones produced in China. Two countries have already met Apple's requirements and have become important players in its supply chain: India and Vietnam.

As the political tension between China and the United States continues to rise, Apple is expected to find new partners outside China that would be able to provide it with the same combination of skill, volume, and low costs, even if that means investing in new plants that would start production in 1-2 years from now.

Although Apple continues to hire workers in the United States, none of the jobs are expected to be in manufacturing, which clearly suggests that company has no plans to start making the iPhone in the U.S., at least not for the foreseeable future.

Can I buy a smartphone that it's not made in China?

It's true that most of the smartphone production has moved to China, as all major players in the industry manufacture their products in the People's Republic of China. However, there are some notable exceptions, although too few to mean something in the grand scheme of things.

The most important are Samsung's flagships, the Galaxy S8/S8+, S9/S9+, Note 8 and Note 9, which are made in South Korea, Vietnam, and China. Then, there's the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, which are manufactured in South Korea in partnership with LG.

Some of HTC's smartphones like the U11 and U11 Life are made in Taiwan, just like the Asus ZenFone 4 Pro. Even Sony is making one of its smartphones, the mid-tier Xperia XA2 Ultra in Japan, while LG V30 wears the “Made in South Korea” tag.

Some of these smartphones aren't manufactured in China because not even this country's amazing infrastructure can meet the high-volume that Samsung or other companies need in a very short time. However, those of you looking to buy a phone that's not made in China, know that you'll severely limit your options. Also, all devices that are assembled in South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam or other countries, pack inside components that are made in China.

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