According to a new report, Apple is looking to diversify production of its popular MacBook family of laptops. Apple has long produced MacBooks in China and has been reluctant to move production out of the country, until now. However, Nikkei Asia claims that longtime supplier Foxconn has been contracted to produce MacBooks in Vietnam. Interestingly, all of Apple’s other major product lines already have alternate production sites outside of China, leaving its MacBooks as the final piece in its diversification puzzle.
Several reasons are motivating Apple to look outside of China for MacBook production. Perhaps one of the more pressing issues is China’s intense crackdown on the spread of COVID-19 within the country. China, until recently, has employed a zero-COVID policy, requiring people with COVID-19 to isolate in state facilities to prevent further spread among the population. The facilities were reportedly understaffed with poor living conditions, and their use separated people from their families (often against their will).
In recent days, China has begun to loosen some of its COVID-19 policies, allowing infected people to isolate at home instead of in a government facility (among other concessions). However, there is a lot of uncertainty about how China National Health Commission policies will shift in the future. And any changes in those policies can potentially affect workers assembling Apple devices in China.
However, the biggest issue involves escalating sanctions from the U.S. on Chinese companies. The sanctions prevent Chinese companies from acquiring semiconductors using advanced American technologies. The U.S. cites national security reasons for its crackdown, but the Chinese government fired back, filing an official protest with the World Trade Organization.
“China takes legal actions within the WTO framework as a necessary way to address our concerns and to defend our legitimate interests,” China’s commerce ministry said in a statement earlier this month. “[U.S. restrictions threaten] the stability of the global industrial supply chains.”
By shifting some of its MacBook production from China to Vietnam, Apple could at least partially isolate itself from any impending fallout geopolitical firestorm brewing from the sanctions. The Nikkei Asia report indicates that Apple has already set up test lines in Vietnam for its MacBooks and could start full-scale production as early as May 2023.
“After the MacBook production shifts, all of Apple’s flagship products basically will have one more production location beyond China … iPhones in India and MacBooks, the Apple Watch and iPads in Vietnam,” said a person familiar with Apple’s plans to Nikkei Asia. “What Apple wants now is an ‘out of China’ option for at least part of production for all of its products.”
Apple’s next big MacBook release is expected to occur in early 2023. At that time, the company will reportedly launch new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros using M2 Pro and M2 Max SoCs using a 5-nanometer process node.