Company / division: Foxconn
Google has today announced a patent licensing alliance which is intended to provide cover to member companies using each other’s patents. The idea is that any member can use any other member’s patents without fear of being sued, something that’s actually been quite common between members of the broader ecosystem over the last few years. The alliance has only nine members to start with, about half of which are smaller smartphone brands, but the members do include Samsung, LG, and of course Google itself, as well as Foxconn. Those members alone apparently have 230,000 patents between them which will now be freely available to other members within the context of Android devices. This is a fascinating move, and it’s impressive that Google was able to get Samsung and LG in particular on board without also having some of the other big Android vendors. Of course, none of this will stop these companies from suing those outside the Android ecosystem (or this alliance), but it might help temper some of the animosity that has sometimes characterized competition between Android OEMs.
There are lots of pieces that come together in this announcement, though the actual details are still very vague, and no final decisions have been made. Firstly, there’s the pressure from President Trump during the campaign (repeated since in a gentler manner) for Apple to produce some of its hardware in the US. Then there’s the recent meeting between the SoftBank and Foxconn CEOs and Trump around bringing jobs to the US. And finally, the suggestion Apple might use Sharp (now owned by Foxconn to make OLED displays for the next iPhones). One scenario is that, as with the Mac Pro, Apple chooses a relatively low-volume, high margin product to manufacture in part in the US, with OLED screens from Sharp for a high-end iPhone 8 model one possibility. Apple has remained entirely silent on the question of manufacturing in the US, and of course doesn’t actually build its own devices anywhere, instead relying on Foxconn to do the assembly, so the ball here is somewhat in Foxconn’s court – without its support, Apple likely can’t do anything.
How China Built ‘iPhone City’ With Billions in Perks for Apple’s Partner – The New York Times (Dec 29, 2016)
The partner here is Foxconn, Apple’s largest manufacturing partner, and this is an in-depth story based on lots of leaked documents. There’s lots that’s interesting here, but the reason it’s relevant is the prospect of both pressure from the Trump administration to bring manufacturing home, and the potential for a US-China trade war. Apple and Foxconn would certainly be in the crosshairs under both scenarios.