The first Apple devices were handmade by Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, and a few others in Jobs’ family garage. They’ve come a long way since then. While most Apple devices are now made in China, via subcontractors like Foxconn, there are still a few devices made in America. The new version of the $3,000-plus Mac Pro is made in the U.S., where the higher price can offset any costs due to Americans demanding a living wage and not polluting the environment. Foxconn has had their own problems with worker suicides leading to the installation of netting around buildings. Yet workers still flock to Foxconn factories because the working conditions are often better than the alternatives.
Now comes word from China, via Apple Insider, that Foxconn may be turning to robots to complete the assembly of iPhones, and eliminating Chinese worker’s jobs. These “Foxbots” might also help with Apple’s secrecy requirements, as the fewer humans who come into contact with the next generation device, the fewer leaks. Foxconn may bring 10,000 Foxbots online, at a cost of up to $25,000 each. Those robots don’t eat or sleep or disclose secrets, presumably, and can make 30,000 devices per year.
This is not Apple’s first foray into robots. Apple bought NeXT, Steve Jobs’ venture after he was kicked out of Apple. Steve was such a fan of automation that his NeXT factory in Fremont, California, was almost entirely automated. I used to admire their building, as it was next to Fry’s Electronics, a frequent haunt of mine when I lived in the Silicon Valley and worked for Sun Microsystems. I recall on October 17, 1989, the day of the “World Series” Earthquake, hearing that, in addition to the tragic human loss, while many companies and buildings had damage, NeXT only lost one motherboard because the robot put down too much solder when the quake hit.
Perhaps it’s ironic, or just the logical chain of events, as Apple moves from the founders making the first Apple devices, to factories in the U.S., to outsourced workers in China, and ultimately to robots. But it feels like we might be closer to the day SkyNet becomes self aware!