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Foxconn workers dress as women during a rally as to raise morale at the heavily regimented factories inside the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, south China, Guangdong province, Wednesday Aug. 18, 2010. Following a string of suicides at its Chinese factories, Foxconn Technology Group raised workers' wages and installed safety nets on buildings to catch would-be jumpers. Now the often secretive manufacturer of the iPhone and other electronics is holding rallies for its workers to raise morale at the heavily regimented factories.
AP Photo/Kin Cheung
Foxconn workers display their high-precision engineering techniques.
IGLASSES

Foxconn comes to America to make Google Glass

By Tim Fernholz

With Google now announcing the lucky winners who earned the right to fork over $1,500 for Google Glass, the eye-glass-style wearable computer, the time has come to start cranking them out in earnest.

The company has brought in Hon Hai Precision Industry—better known as Foxconn—to assemble the product at a factory in Santa Clara, California. While Foxconn builds many of the most popular consumer devices in the world for companies like Apple, it has attracted criticism for allegedly mistreating workers in China after a spate of suicides. Foxconn responded by, among other things, holding massive pep rallies, some of which included having workers don drag, as pictured above.

This will be Foxconn’s first manufacturing facility in the United States; according to the company’s website, the only other presence it has in the US is a “client/technology co-location facility” in Florida. The factory is expected to produce several thousand Google Glasses; so far it’s not known whether it will scale up, nor how many people it will hire.

Google, a software giant, has tried to make hardware before with weak results, pulling the “Nexus Q” media streaming device from shelves just weeks after it debuted. Otherwise it has relied on more experienced manufacturing partners, like LG, which makes its Nexus phones and tablets. Bringing on Foxconn to build Glass, the most cutting-edge piece of hardware Google has ever made, is smart, since advances in electronics assembly have fallen off in the United States as more of that work is outsourced.

The late Steve Jobs, another Foxconn patron, told president Barack Obama that American factories simply couldn’t make iPhones and iPads as fast as Apple needed. (He didn’t say anything about ball gowns.) That’s not just because of lower wages in China and tougher working conditions, but also because of innovations in process. By bringing Foxconn, which is good at process, to the US, Google can have its designers and developers work more closely with the assembly line and tweak the product more easily.

Foxconn has also suggested it will keep expanding in the US (Apple CEO Tim Cook is also seeking to make more computers here), in part by bringing US engineers to China to train them in the company’s manufacturing techniques. Perhaps it will throw in a few fashion tips too. Who says that America’s relationship with China is a one-way street?

Tim Fernholz
Reporter
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