updated 10:10 am EST, Wed November 13, 2013
Heavy investments needed for products like iPhone 5c, MacBook
Apple's forecast of $10.5 billion in capital expenditures for fiscal 2014 is partly based on exclusive machinery deals, sources say. To support its unusual designs, the company has had to invent its own manufacturing technology and/or buy specialized machines. This includes units that can polish the plastic on the iPhone 5c, and test camera lenses for iPhones and iPads; perhaps the best known examples are the laser and milling machines needed to craft the unibody aluminum frames for MacBooks. When it announced the iPhone 5, Apple highlighted the special technology used to produce chamfered edges that can now be found on the iPhone 5s, iPad Air, and iPad mini.
Sources explain that Apple's manufacturing initiatives typically begin inside the industrial design team lead by Jonathan Ive. Ideas devised in that group are brought to the hardware engineering division, which starts to develop large-scale means of getting a product built, since the processes for some Apple products have previously only been used for small product quantities. Engineers may spend weeks at a time at Asian facilities making sure that the parts and equipment Apple buys are working as expected. The company has previously hired robotics experts, and is currently hiring engineers who can run advanced manufacturing hardware.
Bloomberg notes that this process contrasts with most companies, which usually let contract manufacturers figure out how to mass-produce a design. The Apple method is said to be very time-consuming and expensive, but sometimes necessary. One source points out that when the iPhone 4's then-new gyroscope technology was in development, there was no commercially-available equipment for testing it on the scales Apple needed, which prompted the company to build it itself.