Explaining Southern California's economy

Why Apple doesn't build anything in the U.S.

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Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Apple Store in Beijing.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away — well, actually, it was just the USA — Apple made stuff in America. In fact, it manufactured its computers in California, right in its own Cupertino back yard. As Minyanville points out, until 1992, Apple hardware was made in the USA. Now iPhones and iPads are made anywhere but.

I know, 1992 seems like a century ago. There was no Web to speak of, and certainly no smartphones or tablets. Computers were not yet truly ubiquitous in the workplace. They were far from common in homes. But the writing was on the wall.

So why did Apple move its production overseas? Good question, and one that the New York Times recently asked:

Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”

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R.I.P, RIM?

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The infamous Blackberry.

You'd think that Research in Motion's decision to make a big change at the top, moving out co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie and replacing them with a single leader, Thorsten Heins, would mean that the Canadian maker of the BlackBerry could finally see an end to its long nightmare. The sliding share price will reverse! People will buy BlackBerrys again and maybe even...PlayBooks, the company's largely unsuccessful tablet.

And if you thought that, you'd be...wrong, at least according to PC World:

RIM has gone from dominant market leader to virtually irrelevant in a matter of a couple of years. From the outside, it doesn’t seem like RIM actually has a strategy. But, whatever strategy it has is clearly not working. Suggesting that the current plan is sound is like taking over the Titanic knowing it’s about to hit an iceberg, and consciously deciding to stay the course and see what happens.

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J.C. Penney: The new Apple Store?

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Shereen Meraji/KPCC

The new Apple store at the Americana in Glendale.

Don't rule it out. J.C. Penney Company, which operates numerous* stores in Los Angeles, has hired Ron Johnson away from Apple, where he was credited with being the architect of the Apple Store retail concept. Visitors to, for example, the Glendale Galleria could someday visit Johnson's work for Apple to buy and iPad and then zip over to Penney's to buy...

Well, that's the problem, now isn't it? J.C. Penney now exists in a kind of retail twilight, mixed in with the likes of Macy's, but nowhere near as snazzy as Target (where Johnson used to work) nor as rock-bottom cheap and volume-oriented as Wal-Mart or Costco. It's a department store of old, in recent years forced to rely on a strategy of marking down everything, all the time. This is from Reuters:

Some 72 percent of Penney's $17.8 billion revenue last year came from items discounted at least 50 percent. Johnson said Penney's reliance on discounts may have gotten out of hand. "At some point, you seem desperate," he said.

Discounts will remain at Penney, but in a different form.

Every first and third Friday of the month it will clear out some merchandise by putting blue tags on certain items. The old practice, by contrast, was to throw items into a discount bin with signs proclaiming "70 percent off."

Johnson told a news conference on Wednesday that in the past 10 years, discounts have risen to 60 percent off on average from 38 percent, while the average amount of money that ends up in Penney's cash registers has fallen.

"The customer knows the right price," Johnson said. "To think you can fool a customer is kind of crazy."

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Google's new privacy policy: Is this war?

Google Stock Photo

Kimihiro Hoshino/AFP/Getty Images

The Google logo is seen at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. on September 2, 2011. AFP PHOTO/KIMIHIRO HOSHINO (Photo credit should read KIMIHIRO HOSHINO/AFP/Getty Images)

Google just announced that it's making a big change to its privacy policy, effectively taking 70 different policies tied to different Google products — like search, Gmail, and YouTube — and reducing them to one. Google says that this will enable a much better integrated Google experience for users. Critics say that it's Google breaking its own Golden Rule: "Don't be evil."

It's actually neither. Rather, it's Google being Google. The mighty search colossus missed earnings badly the other day. Meanwhile, Apple just crushed it, earnings-wise. And of course the Facebook IPO looms. Google can't be content to operate like the world's greatest technology lab anymore. It needs to leverage what it's great at or lose out to the competition.

**UPDATE: I went on "AirTalk" with Larry Mantle this morning to talk about the new Google privacy policy. You can listen to the whole segment here.**

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Apple vaporizes estimates for first quarter earnings

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Shereen Meraji/KPCC

The new Apple store at the Americana in Glendale.

Any questions? The consensus on Wall Street was that Apple would earn $10.14 a share and record $39 billion in sales for its first fiscal quarter, according to Bloomberg. Instead, it did $13.87 a share on $463 billion in sales. Eyes are still being put back in their sockets:

"Those numbers are just unimaginable," said Michael Obuchowski, chief investment officer at First Empire Asset Management, which has $4 billion under management, including Apple shares. "It’s still an extremely well-managed company and they are showing that the product pipeline is sufficient even now to generate growth rates that are unrivaled."

Apple is now pretty darn close to being a $400 billion company, by market capitalization. It currently has two major things going for it: it's vacuuming up more and more market share for smartphones, as these devices become much more popular and begin to define the future of mobile computing; and it's ideally positioned to thrive in the post-PC age, as consumers shift away from old-school laptops and desktops and move to ultrabooks and tablets.

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