To the Moon, Apple!
Asymco tweeted a nice link to a Mobile-Review article on Apple's component sourcing strategy:
Why other manufacturers were not able to create anything like Apple's MacBook Air: thin aluminum body and an attractive price?
... Apple were just the first to see the potential of such bodies and began to increase their orders. In just a few years Apple became the main partner of Catcher Technology, a company that possess the necessary expertise to manufacture such bodies. Apple's production orders amount to 60% of the company's production capacity. ...
By controlling the resource, aluminum unibody production in this case, Apple left very little space for maneuver for their rivals and ensured low production costs.
I'm not sure I buy into the last quoted sentence. But true, there's been no credible response to the 2010 MBA redesign, and it is just a matter of time before other OEMs catch up, and some OEMs may have already caught up with aluminum unibody fab capacity. No big surprise with the quoted parts. What piqued my interest was the following nugget in the article:
The first iphone had a brilliant aluminum body excellent in many ways. However, iPhone 3G and 3Gs received plastic bodies because the company did not have enough capacity to produce aluminum chassis. Glass chassis of iPhone 4 and 4s is also a result of seeking original materials with sufficient production capacities.
Wow. Not enough aluminum CnC and design/fab capacity for iPhones? It's the same quote Asymco tweeted. Not sure what to think there, that Apple could not ramp up aluminum iPhone capacity. Ok, maybe believable, plausible in the 2008 time frame. That was the year the original MBA was released too, so maybe Apple needed more time to mature the process.
Thinking further, what stretches the imagination, thinking long term, decades, we will be running into this situation, beautifully illustrated by informationisbeautifulawards.com:
Go to the link to see larger versions of the illustrations. Aluminum, glass, iron is highly abundant, but our computers, phones, TVs, batteries also use rare earth elements. Yttrium and indium are slated to run out in 20 years! Tantalum is a conflict mineral. Heh, you can argue oil is a conflict resource even, but I digress.
Tim Cook probably isn't thinking about this, and only thinks 5 years out, approximately 2 product cycles for Apple, but my science fictional thought is that these companies will finally get big enough - hundred of billions of dollars to over trillions in revenue per year - to be able to fund space mining, deep ocean/sea crust mining, deep Earth mining, and garbage dump mining.
Today, Apple is already thinking about capacity constraints of the materials they use. And Mobile-Review thinks Samsung wants to take up all of the plastics fab capacity for the same logistic reasons. What will they have to do 2 decades from now when the minerals start running out and get really expensive? These electronics companies will actually have to think about doing new things to get these resource in the 2020s and 2030s, such as mining for them on the Moon and other planets or celestial bodies.
Assuming the farmers don't get there first.
And this may be within my lifetime! Never thought it would happen. Certainly my kids though. They are going to grow up in a world with 10-20 billion people! And people think the labor "abuses" in China are bad today.