Apple CEO Tim Cook visits Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, China

Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook speaks to employees during a visit to the iPhone production line at the newly built Foxconn Zhengzhou Technology Park, in Henan province, China. Photo taken March 28, 2012 (REUTERS). Reports and analysis on the significance of the visit: Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Bloomberg, Wired News, IBT, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times.


      1. Interestingly, until very recently, half of Apple’s sales were in the US, and half everywhere else in the world. Computers-as-computers still have a similar sales distribution. 

        However, cell phones are MUCH more international. Apple sells far more phones outside of the US than inside. Apple, so far, has not been able to land a major deal in China. The moment they do, however, China will become Apple’s number one sales region.

    1. Apple used to make a lot of stuff in the US, mostly using robots. But there are two reasons that they make almost everything in China, now:

      1) The country of China has provided extremely inexpensive labor. So cheap, it’s cheaper to pay a teenager to assemble stuff, than it is to build/train a robot to do it. It’s also faster to train a human than a robot.

      2) It’s feasible, and economical, to produce extremely high-tech parts in China. In fact, that’s where all the high-tech parts are being produced now. Because many of the parts in Apple products are made in China, it makes sense to build assembly plants near the supplier plants. In China.

      Mind you, there are Chinese companies that will try to cut corners and sell substandard stuff, so you do have to carefully monitor everything. But this monitoring is pretty much the same anywhere — even in the most scrupulous, fastidious, careful factories, you have to audit to make sure that the parts they produce are up to spec — and because devices are so small and so fast, the specs are very, very tight. (Resistors, these days, have 1/10th or 1/100th as many atoms in them as a couple of decades ago.) A slight mistake can cause, say, power supply capacitors to fail after only one year instead of five or ten.

      Yes, there’s also the fact that pretty much everything you buy is made in China these days, because of the cheap labor. As people will be glad to tell you, Xboxes and Dell computers and Android phones are made in a factory next door to, and owned by the same management, as the one that is building iPads. But with fewer audits and less stringent rules. 

      Apple is one of the most “open” and forthcoming about their labor concerns. They say they care about their workers, and they go to a lot of effort to audit and enforce better-than-typical standards, and report on their work. They seem to be doing more about this issue than Microsoft or Dell or whoever.

      That being the case, the conditions are not at all delightful. Workers pull long hours doing very very boring work, with relentless pressure to go faster and improve yields. The pay is tiny, compared to America, and the hours are longer.

      So yeah, it’s upsetting to think that the shiny gadget is being made by not-exactly-slaves-but-not-a-lot-better, labor. 

      It’s a real problem, but not something that can be solved by any simple strategy. 

      The only solace I take is this:
      1) Apple probably is doing most of what they say they are doing, trying to improve things.
      2) It’s quite clear that they’re doing better than their competitors in this department.
      3) There are zillions of people trying to get jobs at Apple plants, because it’s one of the better opportunities around.

  1. Cook: “Hello faithful Chinese worker, are you happy here?”
    Worker: “Oh, yes. Yes. Yes we are so happy and contented here.”
    Other worker: “He’s gone dude.”
    Worker: “Oh thank God.”

  2. Rules:
    #1- Do not attempt to shake Tim Cook’s hand.
    #3- Smile

  3. If I had time and a spare can of WHEREWITHAL™ , I’d be shooping Kim Jong Il into all these photos.  And Junior, too. Or turning the Kim Jong Il factory shots into Tim Jong Il shots…

    But I don’t, and it’s the thought that counts. BOING!

  4. Caption for the bottom photo.

    Apple CEO: “It just works”.
    Foxconn manager: “Please call the employees by ‘he’ or ‘she’, the auditors prefer that.”

  5. I especially like how the inner party members are colour coded for the benefit of outer party members.

    1. It’s called “how things are done in factories”, i.e. Fordism; probably visitors are clearly marked in yellow as “people who should not get too close to X, Y and Z”, and workers of type A/”white” should not mix with type B/”blue” for (mostly) practical reasons probably. Nothing to do with party rank or anything particularly political about it, I’m pretty sure you’d find similar arrangements in First World factories… if there were any left, that is. Oh yes, and McDonalds, where the manager is also clearly marked as “above the minions” through his clothes.

  6. I agree this trip is likely just a photo op for PR purposes. The saddest part is that it’s still more than most of the CEOs from Microsoft, Dell, etc. will ever do to fix the conditions there.

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