The Complexity beneath the Elegance of iPhones and iPads

Via The Verge:

It takes 141 steps to make an iPhone, and the devices are essentially all handmade

It takes five days and 325 hands to make a single iPad

I am not going to discuss the questions of pay, long shifts, dorms, meals and other humanitarian issues. These are finally coming to light, and Apple appears to be taking steps necessary via the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to understand and address these issues.

What is fascinating to me from a design and manufacturing standpoint is the sheer complexity of the devices being manufactured, as well as the scale of devices manufactured.

iPhones are incredibly complex and seamlessly integrated. It is difficult to tell where one physical subsystem ends and the next one starts. The amount of time/labor required is further evidence that these devices are not just "snapped" together sets of components, but are tiny machines composed of complicated intertwined subsystems of overlapping functions - like building any well designed machine, just at an unimaginable scale.

iPads, as larger versions of the iPhone, go through a similar process. There must be significant shared infrastructure and processes between the two production lines, and the number of workers involved is staggering.

Through significant investment, R&D, time and prototyping, Apple has figured out a way to pump out high quality, arguably elegant, end items at an unprecedented rate. And these are not modular systems with clean interfaces. These are complex, hand built machines. The consumer holds an iPhone in his hand, sees it as a smooth piece of metal and glass that does seemingly magical things, and has no idea of the amount of complexity hidden within the object, or the amount of discipline and rigor that went into designing and building the object.

It brings to mind a huge factory that pumps out tiny Ferraris (if there was a market for tiny Ferraris). Yet each tiny, mass-produced Ferrari emerges from the production line with its elegance and soul intact.