Explaining Southern California's economy

Hewlett-Packard tablet reload still won't move the needle

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman was chosen to take over at Hewlett-Packard.

As you may recall, Hewlett-Packard distinguished itself in the tablet market by bringing out the TouchPad at $500 and then having to slash the price to $99 (well, BestBuy slashed the price) a little over the month later. Debacle! And this was with a reasonably nice device that ran WebOS, the superb operating system that HP picked up when it took over Palm.

Now Meg Whitman — she of the ill-fated bid for governor of California, now HP's CEO — has said that HP will introduce another tablet "before the end of this year" (Bloomberg) and that it will run Microsoft's Windows 8 OS...eventually.

Oh, also, there will be Intel chips.

It will be an HP Wintel tablet.

Hooray! What a wonderful plan! But... 

As I've written before, there is no tablet market — there's an iPad market. And the only company that's been able to take a bite out of Apple's dominance is Amazon, which with its Kindle Fire isn't selling a tablet but a tricked-out Kindle (a Kindroid) to use as leverage to get more people to purchase Amazon content.

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This is where Apple pays Chinese workers $2 an hour to make iPhones

 

It's actually starting to build: the Apple backlash. A decade ago, the company was almost bankrupt. Today, it has a market cap of $481 billion, almost $100 billion cash in the bank, and a share price that some analyst think could go to $1000 by 2015, if not sooner.

Those numbers come from Apple's astonishing growth — around 40 percent since January of last year — and its equally astonishing operating profit margins: 30-plus percent. But what enables that growth and those margins is two things: cheap Chinese labor; and customers who are willing to pay a premium.

The video above is from a February 22 broadcast of ABC's "Nightline." The news program got an inside look at Foxconn, the "iFactory" in China where workers are paid less than $2 an hour for a 12-hour shift. More than a dozen of these workers have committed suicide, although it's unclear whether the working conditions drove them to it or whether Foxconn's facilities employ so many Chinese that suicides are going to be inevitable, as a percentage of the employed population.

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The secret of the Apple iPhone's success: Profits!

New Apple CEO Tim Cook Introduces iPhone 4s

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

CUPERTINO, CA - OCTOBER 04: Apple's Senior Vice President of iOS Scott Forstall speaks about the new voice recognition app called Siri at the event introducing the new iPhone 4s at the company's headquarters October 4, 2011 in Cupertino, California. The announcement marks the first time new CEO Tim Cook introduced a new product since Apple co-founder Steve Jobs resigned in August. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Apple just flat-out killed it last quarter, largely on the strength of iPhone sales. Most analysts, technological and financial, now readily agree that Apple reinvented the smartphone business with the iPhone by putting a computer in your pocket. What's perhaps less apparent is that Apple also reinvented the business model for mobile communications. That's why this headline from CNET provokes a double-take: "iPhone Soaks Up 75 Percent of All Mobile Phone Profits."

What?!?! Three quarters of all profits available in the mobile space go to Cupertino? That's remarkable. Here's CNET:

Though it holds only around 9 percent of the global mobile phone market, Apple raked in 75 percent of all profits across the industry last quarter, according to Asymco analyst Horace Dediu.

That left rival Samsung with 16 percent of the profit pie, RIM with 3.7 percent, HTC with 3 percent, and Nokia rounding out the list of 1.8 percent. All together that pie represents around $15 billion in profits for the final quarter of 2011.

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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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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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