Tim Bajarin, as published on Recode:
Over the years, I have talked with various ODM and manufacturing equipment makers, and many have told me Apple’s real secret to success is how deep the company goes into the overall manufacturing process.
Very few companies go to that level of detail when it comes to their supply chain. Besides Intel, Apple is one of the only other major tech companies I know of that will actually invent the manufacturing equipment needed to bring a new product to market. Most others accept the limitations of the equipment, and instead design the product around the things these machines can do with as little customization as possible.
I think the well-known product designer Greg Koenig would disagree with the idea that Apple outright invents the manufacturing equipment. My understanding is that their most significant manufacturing innovations involve applying techniques usually reserved for one-offs at a massive scale.
But, even though they don’t own the factories their products are built in, they often own the manufacturing technologies themselves. In a well-known story, when Apple wanted to make the battery and iSight indicator lights only visible in any way when lit, they bought the company that made microscopic laser drilling instruments. What was once a technique used only in the smallest of scales became used to make every MacBook Pro, wireless keyboard, and Magic Trackpad for years.