On the eve of Google revealing its expanded Nexus family of devices and eagle-eyed observers spotted that its Nexus Q Android-powered Magic 8 Ball streaming media player is being made in the USA, The New York Times published a piece more or less suggesting Apple builds the cost of dead workers into its products.
Two days after the Grey Lady published "In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad," — subtly implying that Apple was directly responsible for a deadly explosion in a Chengdu plant — it ran another big piece: "Google Tries Something Retro: Made in the U.S.A."
The new Cold War between America and China over manufacturing will be fought by proxy brands Google and Apple. We already know whose side the New York Times is on. In the meantime, Google may have just pulled the Made-in-America wool over everyone's eyes.
In May, Apple's CEO Tim Cook visited China, dropping in on a Foxconn plant with the promise of better working conditions as well as further expansion into China.
A month later, Apple released iOS6, which included a Siri function that speaks and understands Chinese. (Just don't expect her to discuss certain unpleasantries.)
Meanwhile, the hottest "Apple in China" news is that the upcoming iPhone 5, due in October, will be compatible with the 3G TD-SCDMA network of the nation's largest and most popular carrier, China Mobile. Between this and Siri, Apple will already have gone a long away to addressing nagging issues about the (comparatively) mediocre user expedience it was offering Chinese iPhone owners.
Apple now owns around 20 percent of China's smartphone market. That's behind the 30 percent of the US market it claims. But China also accounts for about one-fifth of all Apple sales and it's business there is expected to double by the end of the year. With a China Mobile iPhone 5, that could be a low estimate. In fact, there's an argument to be made that Apple is now nearly as much a Chinese brand as it is an American one.
Meanwhile, Google's testy relationship with China is as legendary as it was disastrous. While the reports that Google "gave up on China" are not quite accurate, Google has become a major antagonist of China. Recently, Google began alerting users to search terms that Chinese officials may be censoring via the "Great Firewall." As a more direct proxy for US interests, The Week argued that Google has become a sort of anti-Chinese espionage extension of America's state department.
On the bottom of the new Nexus Q product one will find the phrase “Designed and Manufactured in the U.S.A.” It's hard to not see that as a stick in the eye of Apple, whose product packaging reads "Designed by Apple in California." Indeed, it did not take Cnet long to run the headline "Google shows Apple: We made ours in the U.S.A."
Of course neither brand can like how the conversations around their respective brands are going. Apple, for the obvious reasons; and for Google, while it may provide a short burst of positive publicity for its new device, "Made in the USA" as the core position of its new product is weak and leaves the product dependent on more than its own merits.
One nifty trick for Google though is the possibility that the news blitz surrounding the fact that the Nexus Q is Made in the USA may create a halo effect engulfing Google's Nexus 7 tablet. The Nexus 7 tablet, more important than the Q, has taken aim at the (Made by Foxconn in China) iPad.
It might not hurt Google if all of the Made in USA noise leaks onto the Nexus 7, which is made by Asus, a Taiwanese company with manufacturing locations around the globe, but not in the USA. One place the Nexus 7 made be manufactured? Asus' 540,000 square meter hi-tech park in Suzhou, China.