Apple’s First Made-in-America Mac Will Be The One You Never Heard Of

On Thursday, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that Apple will begin producing a Made-in-America Mac sometime next year, but offered few details on when or what, other than saying that it would be an existing Mac product.

Here’s Tim Cook’s interview with Brian Williams of NBC where he discusses it: 

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The key quote: “Next year, we will do one of our existing Mac lines in the United States.” But which one?

The quote rules out a new product line (e.g., a Mac branded TV).  What, then, existing Mac product line will it be?

It has to be the one most people have never heard of, the Mac Pro.

Not MacBook Pro, but Apple’s almost invisible professional desktop,  the completely not all-in-one line of high end computers.

Why the Mac Pro? Several things line up to point at this product line:

  • Tim Cook has also told customers to look forward to a new Mac Pro next year, saying they should “expect something really great.”  Apple has already committed to a substantial product revision.  This means that a new set of parts, perhaps more substantially USA sourced, will go into this computer.
  • The Mac Pro is a desktop computer and designed to allow for user replacement of parts, and so the manufacturing process is nowhere near as exacting as for laptops, iMacs, or even the Mac Mini — all of which do amazing things to shrink their size but at the cost of a much more precise manufacturing process.
  • Because it is the most expensive Mac (starting at $2500 without a monitor, compared to the starting price of $1300 for the all-in-one iMac), the labor portion of its costs are the smallest on a percentage basis.  A 25% increase in the labor costs would add only a trivial amount to the over all cost of the system.
  • Mac Pros are usually custom builds to each customer’s specifications.  Apple isn’t going to be able to manufacture millions of the exact same configuration in China.  The cheapest Mac Pro has 8 different hardware configuration options (memory, processor, graphics card, etc.) while the most expensive iMac has 4.  This means that final assembly would have to be done in the USA (for shipping to the US market), and it’s not a big step up from final assembly to “manufacturing”.
  • Finally, Mac Pros are the slowest selling product line by far, which means the manufacturing process can start much more gracefully than with a consumer machine.  If they totally screw it up, it won’t have much of an impact on the bottom line.

All of this does not mean that Apple will not produce some other mac line in the USA down the road, but if I were Apple and I wanted a low-risk way to try out manufacturing in the USA, this is by-and-far the best way to start.