back to article Apple manufacturers: ARRGH, pesky iThings are impossible to make

The iPad Mini is the latest Apple product to cause big problems for manufacturers in the Asian supply chain. According to reports, it's the LCD panels that are the problem, and both manufacturers - AU Optronics and LG Display - are losing money on the contract, Digitimes reports. AU Optronics and LG have struggled to produce …

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  1. Andrew Jones 2
    Angel

    Wait... Apple kit is manufactured? I thought that they were magicked into existence with unicorn tears and Leprechaun song.....

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Nah, it's Oompa-Loompas.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Destroy All Monsters

        You're thinking of Android devices.

        1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

          Re: @Destroy All Monsters

          I don't know, Oompa tears and Loompa song sounds almost right somehow.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Andrew Jones 2

      Don't be silly, that will never work, unless you add in an ample helping of fairy dust :)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "ample helping of fairy dust :)"

        Thats called fannybois cash. MUGS.

    3. Euripides Pants Silver badge

      Glitter and whalesong.

  2. JaitcH
    FAIL

    The impossible we can do ...

    but miracles take a little longer.

    An old Army saying.

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      Re: The impossible we can do ...

      and in reply to the boss's latest requests...

      Miracles we can do...

      but that will take a little longer.

  3. John Latham

    "Low yield rate"

    ...is presumably manufacturing-speak for "we have to chuck most of them in the bin".

    Can't be very environmentally sound. Out of sight...

    1. Don Jefe
      Meh

      Re: "Low yield rate"

      Sound? Environmentally? Manufacturing? Pick two of the three...

      1. James Micallef Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: "Low yield rate"

        It's the manufacturer's own fault, though. Surely they wouldn't accept a contract if they hadn't played around with a few sample builds and knew exactly how difficult they were to build and what yields they would get??

        1. Anonymous Coward
          FAIL

          Re: "Low yield rate"

          Typically the small sample sizes you have aren't representative when you operate at scale. It's difficult to realize, without having experienced it, just how exactly many things can go wrong in process engineering.

          1. Tom 13

            Re: just how exactly many things can go wrong in process engineering.

            And that's assuming both sides are communicating clearly.

            Not a process engineer myself, just a fly on the wall during one dispute between an OEM supplier and the buyer. Being as I was working for the OEM at the time, I consider it a good thing we were both right about the engineering and able to win the argument. The point of contention was on how exactly to measure the temperature of media inside the device. Buyer was getting inconsistent results because they were simply dropping probes inside a chamber. Our process involved attaching the probes to both sides of the conduit in which the material was being heated and with that assembly being inside the chamber.* Since the key selling point was the stability of the temperature inside the conduit and not the box, ours was the better measure.

            *OK, not exactly heated, but close enough for this posting. More than that might risk disclosure of parties, and/or breach legal agreements.

    2. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: "Low yield rate"

      > ...is presumably manufacturing-speak for "we have to chuck most of them in the bin".

      That is very precisely what "low yield rate" means, there is no secret shameful agenda behind that. Manufacturing processes are not perfect, there is ALWAYS some waste, i.e. some units don't pass the quality control. When most of the units pass the quality control you have a "high yield rate". When the process is too fiddly a lot of units end up in the bin and you have a "low yield rate". That increases costs. Chucking part of the production in the bin is an integral part of EVERY automated manufacturing process.

      1. John Latham

        Re: "Low yield rate"

        Whether it's "shameful" or not rather depends on how low is "low", no?

        FWIW there are some environmental ratings for the finished product here:

        http://www.redmondpie.com/iphone-5-is-among-the-most-environmentally-friendly-devices-on-the-market/

    3. cortland
      Coat

      Re: "Low yield rate"

      Either that, or "2/3 of 'em go to our inimitable illicit imitation industry."

      Which would YOU believe?

      May i take your coat? Wallet? Watch? Spectacles?

      THANK you.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Low yield rate"

      Which is a problem that is not unique to the display industry or Apple. CPU yields are 70% tops, so 30% or more are either thrown away or turned into cut price processors.

      Technology is moving on all the time and so manufacturing is always on the edge.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    5. Test Man
      Stop

      Re: "Low yield rate"

      Isn't this also part of the reason why one of the console's CPU design deliberately made use of only three cores instead of four? If there was an error with one core, they can still use it, hence increasing yield.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    DigiTimes, seriously?

    Please tell me when has DigiTimes ever been right about anything Apple.

    Doesn't seem to stop amateur hacks quoting them though.

    1. Esskay
      FAIL

      Re: DigiTimes, seriously?

      ummm...

      http://allthingsd.com/20111216/digitimes-is-a-mini-ipad-on-the-way/

  5. cyke1
    Joke

    anyone else?

    Think Apple ditching Samsung is starting to show it was a bad idea even though they are one of their major competitors?

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: anyone else?

      Since Samsung doesn't even make the extra-thin type of display that Apple is using in the iPhone 5 and iPad mini, keeping Samsung around wouldn't have helped. The process used was jointly developed by Sharp and Apple, and has been licensed to LG and I think a third firm.

      Not to say Samsung can't/won't develop something similar themselves, they just don't have it yet. Apple also wants to convert to the more power efficient IZGO LCD which is a Sharp invention, but they've had trouble getting that to production readiness so it likely won't appear in Apple stuff until 2013. It will probably appear in Android devices first given Apple's likely new product timelines.

      I'd say rather than Apple's fight with Samsung it is far more likely Sharp's well-documented financial difficulties that are to blame here.

      1. gkroog
        Go

        Re: anyone else?

        Well, wouldn't Samsung have been able to develop this screen far better than Sharp, given just the financial difficulties you've pointed out?

        Apple got on their high horse about "innovating" and "stealing" other people's IP (even though Steve Jobs crowed in 1996 that they unashamedly "stole great ideas"...his words), and yanked their business away from Samsung. Now reality is beginning to cut through the "reality distortion field" that is part of the legacy of Steve Jobs: Apple's designs don't magically make a manufacturer a producer of cutting edge technology.

        Apple said that they want other companies to be innovative, and yet it came out in court when they were sued by VirtnetX that Apple's engineers develop their products with no regard for what may be another company's IP. Innovation...sure...

        I hope for Apple's sake that they learn this lesson here and now. They may have a fantastic share and brand value at the moment, but if they disappoint too many Apple customers in terms of both share and product one time too many, perhaps we'll find them burgeoning the market share of Android further.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: anyone else?

          Apple said that they want other companies to be innovative, and yet it came out in court when they were sued by VirtnetX that Apple's engineers develop their products with no regard for what may be another company's IP.

          ----

          ALL tech companies work this way. Apple, Samsung, Google, Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, and all the rest. If an engineer looks at someone else's patents and infringes, the company is liable for triple damages for willful infringement, versus just regular (1x) damages otherwise. Any engineer posting on El Reg will tell you they've been instructed to not look at patents anything remotely close to their field, and one friend of mine who works in Silicon Valley said he was told he shouldn't even READ any articles regarding tech patent disputes!

      2. Blane Bramble
        Thumb Down

        Re: anyone else?

        "keeping Samsung around wouldn't have helped."

        If the process had been licensed to them, I think it might well have helped, given their manufacturing prowess.

  6. Eddy Ito Silver badge

    How do the new ones compare to the older ones when they were launched? If it's considerably more difficult now given current manufacturing state of the art than it was previously then I would assume that Apple is putting too much effort into making things less there. Minimalism has a limit when folks start talking about someone's new clothes. If those folks are investors, it ain't gunna be perty.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It makes me wonder...

    on what basis the manufacturers compile their bid if both of them now find - and not for the first time - they're not making any money on the contract.

    1. Neil Milner-Harris

      Re: It makes me wonder...

      The manufacturers work on profit over the term of the initial contract, note that the article says they believe that they will start to turn a profit on the contract in Q1. The low yield rate at start up is usually calculated into the unit price over the term, in this case though it does sound like the yield is lower than expected and the manufacturers are taking a hit on the overall contract margin, but that's just the way the game works. They'll simply aim to increase the yield so that when they retain the contract the unit margin is vastly improved.

      1. mccp

        @ Neil

        Upvote for actually reading the article. It seems reasonable to be in profit by your second quarter to me and presumably, if they don't like losing money they will just stop making the parts.

        1. g e
          Holmes

          Re: @ Neil

          Plus companies like to promise ridiculous timescales, figures and other things to simply get a big name customer onto their books by hook or by crook.

    2. Tom 13

      Re: It makes me wonder...

      You only know the real cost of things you already make, and even at that, only based on past performance. Any time you introduce a new product, there are new processes, and possibly even new manufacturing equipment. Sure you can work with a sample in a test or model shop, and computers make it easier to try to emulate scaling processes, but until you actually make the first process run, you don't have any real data.

      So pricing contracts for new stuff is an art that is informed by past experience. And if you can make improvements in the processing while the contract is ongoing, you can improve your profits. That's the part the business guys really count on when they write the contracts: that even if you take a hit at the start, your people are good enough to make up for it over the run of the contract.

  8. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

    The manufactures are loosing money on every unit

    Bet Apple aren't though

    K'ching

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The manufactures are loosing money on every unit

      That's why you don't manufacture your own products these days, it is the hardest part to do from a cost perspective.

    2. Tim99 Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: The manufactures are loosing money on every unit

      Down-vote for "loosing".

      "Usage: The verb lose is sometimes mistakenly written as loose, as in this would cause them to loose 20 to 50 per cent (correct form is … to lose 20 to 50 per cent). There is a word loose, but it is very different—normally an adjective, meaning ‘untethered; not held in place; detached’, as in loose cobbles; the handle was loose ; set loose."

      1. Tom 13

        Re: Down-vote for "loosing".

        I dunno...

        There is a certain sense in which you do loose money when your company loses money. I mean, it certainly isn't being tethered to anything productive when you lose it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Down-vote for "loosing".

          And loose being the opposite of tight.

    3. ed2020

      Re: The manufactures are loosing money on every unit

      Losing, not loosing. It's really not that hard.

  9. Steve Todd
    Stop

    The iPad mini screen is quite low tech

    It doesn't have the integrated digitiser electronics of the iPhone and is basically just a larger sized blank cut from the same process that they made the iPhone 3GS from. I'd take this report with a large pinch of salt (don't forget that Digitimes get the occasional fact right, but mostly spout rubbish).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The iPad mini screen is quite low tech

      Do you spout as much rubbish as you Steve?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Do you spout as much rubbish as you Steve?

        Awesome!

    2. Steve I

      Re: The iPad mini screen is quite low tech

      "is basically just a larger sized blank cut from the same process..."

      But this alone can affect yield rates, as seen in digial camera sensors. Full frame are much more expensive due to lower vield rates despite often being the same tech as smaller sensors.

      An example:

      Let's say the die from which your sensor is made has on average 4 defects in random places, which would render a sensor useless. If the sensor is small, you might get 100 out of each die. The 4 defects might (if you're lucky) affect only 1 sensor; they might affect 4 different ones. Yield rates are, on average, between 96-99%

      For a large sensor, you might get 10 per die. Your 4 defects will still affect between 1 and 4 of your sensors, but this now represents 10-40% of the sensors on the die, lowering yield rates to an average of between 60-90%.

      So although the difficulty to manufacture hasn't changed, the yield rates have declined dramatically.

      1. Steve Todd
        Stop

        Re: The iPad mini screen is quite low tech

        The size of the blank makes a difference to yields, but not much on the scale of an LCD screen and the maturity of the process offsets this. Manufacturers will have known all the variables before they quoted for the job. The haters may hate this, but I'll say it again, the iPad mini screen isn't a complicated or advanced part. LCD panels are cut from sheets more than a meter long each side.

        The screens for the iPad 3/4 and iPhone 5 are much more complex and newer processes. I can understand them having process issues, but these?

  10. Shufflemoomin
    FAIL

    Difficult to manufacture with a low yield. That's expensive and congratulations Apple customers, you're footing the bill. You think that shiny new device is the most expensive because it's the best, do you?

    1. gkroog
      Go

      Exactly.

      Its been pointed out that the iPad Mini ("every INCH an iPad"...well, yes...its made by Apple...and its a tablet...so it would be an iPad even if it had a two inch screen...marketing genius!) lacks basic functionality that other manufacturers include (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/10/25/ipad_mini_wifi_no_gps/), and had a surprisingly low resolution for a screen larger than that of their competitors in the small tablet market.

      This seems to be Apple's way of guaranteeing recurring income: leave out features first time round, people will buy it cos of the Apple badge. Next time round unveil a very similar model with one or two more features, generate hype to the fanbois, the fanbois will hype it up out there, and charge more.

      The cartoon depicting faithful Apple customers as a horde of zombies shuffling towards the light of a iStore seems more and more to reflect reality. Without hesitation I would rather have an Android device.

    2. the-it-slayer

      Yes it is...

      And the uplifted price is in preparation for the retina version so they can go... "wow, we've fit in an awesome post-HD screen in a 7.8" space and it's not anymore expensive".

      Even if this is true or not, at least some co's are willing to push the boundaries unlike most of the Android-ducks sitting there.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    iPad = shite, got it!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Very True

    Mine had a faulty home button, had to send it back.

  13. Jonathan 29
    Unhappy

    Retina Mini

    Sounds like my hopes for the retina version will be dashed by manufacturers and their darned need to make some profit. Can I wait till next Autumn ? Hmmm.

    1. the-it-slayer

      Re: Retina Mini

      ...or Q2 2013 if they buck up their ideas and get to a 6 month release cycle which seems increasingly likely as the iPad Mini has flown off the shelves.

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