A hot iPhone rumor made its way around the Internet on Thursday. It wasn’t an Apple rumor, though. It was a Foxconn rumor. And it wasn’t about a worker riot or suicide pacts, it was a rumor that a new Foxconn plant in the U.S. would lead to an American-made iPhone.
According to a Digitimes report, Foxconn is planning on opening up plants in the United States. Foxconn makes a lot of stuff, but as it’s one of Apple primary manufacturing partners, lots of people jumped to the salacious conclusion that a U.S.-based Foxconn factory could finally produce an American-made iPhone.
First, some backstory: At a dinner party for Silicon Valley power players, Barack Obama once asked Steve Jobs what it would take to build an iPhone in the United States, to bring those manufacturing jobs back to America. Jobs was blunt with his response: “Those jobs aren’t coming back.”
Jobs wasn’t kidding. Foxconn denied the Digitimes report today. A company spokeswoman told CNET that the company actually “already has multiple facilities based in the U.S.” but that “there are no current plans to expand our operations there at this time.” Foxconn doesn’t make iPhones in the existing factories, and they don’t plan to.
Around the same time the Digitimes report came out, another report made its way around the web that Foxconn was continuing to have problems assembling the iPhone 5. “It’s not easy to make the iPhones," Foxconn chairman Terry Gou told Reuters. “We are falling short of meeting the huge demand.” A month earlier, an anonymous Foxconn executive told The Wall Street Journal that “the iPhone 5 is the most difficult device that Foxconn has ever assembled. … To make it light and thin, the design is very complicated.”
And that’s exactly why it will never be made in the United States, an unnamed Apple executive told The New York Times earlier this year. As part of the paper’s Pulitzer-baiting series on Foxconn and Apple’s manufacturing process, it did a whole piece focused on “how the U.S. lost out on iPhone work.” It’s revealing, and if you’re patriotic about our country’s blue collar history, it’s pretty devastating. Long story short, China has just become much much better at manufacturing things than the United States. Those stories you read about the horrible working conditions at Foxconn? They’re true, but the majority of workers don’t seem to mind. At the very least, Chinese manufacturing plants have a ready supply of workers who can do complex, precise tasks for cheap.
Though they might have some trouble with the teeny pieces in the iPhone 5, Apple believes that Foxconn’s system of building iPhones in China couldn’t be replicated in the United States. “They could hire 3,000 people overnight,” said Jennifer Rigoni, a former Apple global supply demand manager. "What U.S. plant can find 3,000 people overnight and convince them to live in dorms?” Another unnamed Apple executive told The Times, "We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers. The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.” Sorry, America. You can go back to not having jobs now.