A View from David Zax
Your iPhone's Brain Might Be from Texas
The A5 processor is now made in Austin, say sources.
Siri, that simultaneously loved and hated intelligence animating the iPhone 4S, doesn’t have a distinctive regional accent to speak of–she seems to hail from the same part of the country as 2001’s HAL. But a new report from Reuters suggests that if she were to use regional mannerisms, “Yeehaw!” might be the most suiting.
Though Apple sources many of the components for its devices from Asia (its supplier, Foxconn, has famously taken flak following the suicides of several of its employees), Reuters reports that the A5 chip that powers iPhone 4S’s and iPad 2’s are now being sourced from a factory in Austin, Texas. That factory, owned by the Korean company Samsung Electronics, measures 1.6 million square feet, and has been there since 1996, initially to make its NAND flash memory chips. Why Austin? The city is something of a tech hub because of the University of Texas’s top-rate engineering school.
Reuters doesn’t name its sources in its report, but they say that Samsung started supplying the A5 chips from the Austin plant at some point this year. Samsung and Apple alike are keeping tight-lipped about this one, as usual.
In the weird, wonderful world of technology, the bitterest enemies can also be the best of friends. Apple is heavily reliant on Samsung technology; Apple bought $6 billion worth of components from the company in 2010, according to the Austin American-Statesman. As the two companies smile through gritted teeth, though, they are also swiping knives at each other’s backs. Samsung and Apple are embroiled in a series of epic legal battles (over product design and IP) that have spilled over into California, South Korea, Japan, Germany, and Italy. New claims, in fact, have just been filed in Germany, including one over the use of emoticons, of all things. Meanwhile, Apple has reportedly (according to Digitimes) reached out to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, which might begin to manufacture some of Apple’s next-gen CPUs. If things ever got irreparably acrimonious between Apple and Samsung, suspect some, TSMC could pick up some of the slack.
Suffice it to say that the Apple gadget in your pocket or pocketbook right now is a mongrel of a device. Some parts are made in Asia, and some parts are apparently made in Texas and then shipped to Asia to be assembled (or perhaps even to Brazil, if a rumor repeated by The Verge carries any weight). Meanwhile, so long as Foxconn remains a central part of Apple’s supply chain, and so long as its practices remain suspicious to many observers, there are still plenty of hard questions to ask yourself about the global effects of your gadget lust.
Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.Subscribe today