What’s Really Going On With Apple’s U.S.-manufactured Mac Pro?

mac-pro

Remember when Apple came out with its six-guns a blazin’ to announce its Mac Pro and a return to US manufacturing? It was a big deal for much of 2013 and 2014, accompanied by a lot of flag-waving bombast and back-patting bravado. But then Apple fell mysteriously silent on the topic as the months turned into years without any upgrades.

It was President Obama who at the beginning of 2011 asked Steve Jobs what it would take to build iPhones in the United States. Why can’t that work come home, the president asked. Steve Jobs’ answer was unequivocal: “Those jobs aren’t coming back.” Nevertheless, in 2012 Tim Cook’s Apple committed to investing over $100 million to kickstart US manufacturing. In 2013, Apple would launch the completely redesigned Mac Pro, which would be partially manufactured and then assembled in Austin, Texas though a partnership with Flextronics.

Cook spoke triumphantly of the undertaking as he did the rounds on the media circuit. But he also expressed his concerns in an interview with Brian Williams:

Cook said he believes the U.S. education system is failing to produce enough people with the skills needed for modern manufacturing processes. He added, however, that he hopes the new Mac project will help spur others to bring manufacturing back to the U.S.

“The consumer electronics world was really never here,” Cook said. “It’s a matter of starting it here.”

Cook knows a little something about “modern manufacturing processes” because he was there at its invention. Cook joined Apple in 1998 with a mandate to clean up Apple’s woeful manufacturing apparatus around the world. He’s the guy who closed Apple’s factories and warehouses in earnest and outsourced the work to more efficient and flexible contract manufacturers that could scale a skilled workforce quickly and still do the work more cheaply. It was a move that paid off when the world demanded hundreds of millions of iPods after the product’s 2001 debut, and established a highly visible precedent for the rest of the consumer electronics industry to follow. The corresponding supply chain is firmly entrenched in China as a result.

Despite this, the US-made Mac Pro went on sale on December 19th, 2013.

Notoriously, the Mac Pro hasn’t seen an update in over three years — an eternity for computers. Yet it’s still for sale. Bizarre, don’t you think, for a product that received annual updates in the years preceding it? Yesterday, Mark Gurman writing for Bloomberg gave us some insight into what’s going on (emphasis mine):

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SOURCE: Thomas Ricker 
The Verge