Apple engineers guide iPhone manufacturing in China through FaceTime

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A Group FaceTime call on the Mac.
Apple hasn't been as directly hands-on as usual.
Photo: Apple

Apple engineers have used FaceTime-style video calling to guide Chinese colleagues through iPhone prototype assembly, a recent report by the Wall Street Journal notes.

The report helps answer one key question about how Apple is able to get iPhone prototypes assembled at a time when travel restrictions stop Apple employees from making their usual trips to China. Apple tested out the process in January.

The problem of employees being unable to travel to China was highlighted in a Reuters report published late February. It noted how, early each year, Apple engineers normally fly to China. Their job there is to start figuring out the details for iPhone assembly ahead of new models’ customary fall launch. Once these early stages of verification and prototyping have been carried out, mass manufacturing can begin.

This year, however, it seems that Apple has had to work around it. Apple supplier Foxconn this week said it expects there to be no delay with its manufacturing of the 2020 iPhones. But how many Apple employees will have been able to inspect the production line ahead of time is not clear.

Changing the way iPhones are made

This isn’t the only change in this year’s product cycle. According to the Wall Street Journal report, published Thursday, Apple has also let some engineers take home prototypes of future products, as per sources familiar with the matter. This is a definite break in tradition for Apple, which has prized secrecy as one of its most valuable assets.

Provided everything goes according to plan, we’ll find out how well this strategy has worked once new iPhones start shipping — and users start testing them — later this year.

This year’s iPhone 12 is expected to be one of Apple’s biggest refreshes in a while. In addition to camera and internal upgrades, it will also include a redesigned body. The most eagerly anticipated update is its likely adoption of 5G technology, giving it faster internet connectivity.