Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has always been renowned for attempting to be on the cutting edge of technology, but reports emerging today indicate that future versions of the iPhone could be taking advantage of an entirely new form of tech. The tech giant has long since been associated with Foxconn Technology Co., Ltd. (TPE:2354), the Taiwanese manufacturing company that builds many of its products, and news today indicates that the latter is currently working with Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) to spruce up its manufacturing facilities.
Foxconn & Google make robotics pact
In accordance with this, Foxconn is currently stepping up the deployment of robotics at its factories, meaning that in a rather delicious irony Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) robots could conceivably be involved in the production of the iPhone.
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The Wall Street Journal has been reporting on this issue in the last 24 hours, indicating that Foxconn has been seeking assistance in the automation of its production lines. While electronics assembly has previously been a largely manual task, Google is aiming to introduce robots to the process. Constructing an iPhone currently requires a team of around 600 people.
While any company will obviously wish to keep manufacturing costs as low as possible, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) will certainly be monitoring this development closely, given the fact that its association with Foxconn has hardly been viewed as completely positive. Labor conditions at Foxconn factories has been subject to significant levels of criticism, and there were even reports recently that Taiwanese schoolchildren were forced to work on the construction of the PS4 in Foxconn plants.
This was thought to be a possible source of a glitch in Sony’s Playstation 4, with one Foxconn worker allegedly claiming that he had been deliberately omitting an important screw from the process. Whether or not this had any validity is debatable, but it was a story which underlined issues related to Foxconn.
Although Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) will be extremely conscious of keeping costs as low as possible for future iPhones, and such a production process could conceivably deliver this, they will also be aware that fully automated facilities in which human workers are increasingly marginalized are not likely to be met with universal approval.
Furthermore, the irony of Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) providing the robotics to carry out this process will not be lost on Apple, and it could be that this could impact on their manufacturing process in the future. Whether Google would seek to block Foxconn Technology Co., Ltd. (TPE:2354) from working on Apple products is debatable, and so is whether Apple would seriously consider ditching Foxconn, but there is no doubt that a corporation the size of Apple will have other options open to it.
Nonetheless, the process of ramping up the use of robotics in Foxconn Technology Co., Ltd. (TPE:2354) factories is evidently moving forward. The Taiwanese manufacturer already utilized mechanized processes in its production process, but the company has been working with former Android executive Andy Rubin for over a year in order to implement the vision for robotics within Foxconn’s factories. Apparently, Rubin has demonstrated new automation techniques that Foxconn is hoping to include within its manufacturing processes in the near future.
In accordance with its long-term strategy, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) has acquired eight robotics companies over the course of the past year, and it has been rumored for some time that the company is currently in the process of attempting to develop a robotic operating system. This would then hopefully become as significant for the corporation within the manufacturing field as the Android operating system has been for smartphones.
Foxconn’s key partnerships
Foxconn has been the largest manufacturer of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) products for quite some time, and assembles the majority of iPhones and iPads which end up in the US market. But the company is by no means an exclusive supplier for Apple, as it has also worked on a raft of other products for Sony Corporation (NYSE:SNE) (TYO:6758), Nintendo Co., Ltd (OTCMKTS:NTDOY), Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT). Among the products which have been mass produced in Foxconn factories are the BlackBerry Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) (TSE:BB) smartphone, the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, and the Microsoft Xbox One and Xbox 360, the Sony PlayStation 3 and Playstation 4, and the Nintendo Wii and Wii U video games consoles.
Thus, a move from Foxconn Technology Co., Ltd. (TPE:2354) into robotics would have a massive impact on the way that consumer products are produced. Although Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) are big rivals, it doesn’t really seem plausible that such a significant part of Apple’s operations will be seriously threatened, particularly as so many other major companies have taken advantage of their production facilities previously.
Nonetheless, whatever perceived benefits Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Foxconn Technology Co., Ltd. (TPE:2354) can derive from this system, they are certainly opening themselves up to criticism by attempting to effectively mechanize some of their key production procedures. The weariness of machines replacing humans has been a perennial subject of science-fiction for decades, but in the contemporary world it’s becoming more of a reality than fiction.
No wonder Wired Magazine predicted over a decade ago that “the future doesn’t need us.”