Apple partner Foxconn hires thousands as iPhone 5S production begins

Apple [AAPL] manufacturer, Foxconn, is recruiting thousands of new workers, signalling it is preparing to enter production of the new iPhone, the Wall Street Journal reports.

[ABOVE: In a chat that's sure to fan expectation of wearable devices from Apple, board member, Bill Campell, talks about wearable computing.]

10,000 extra staff -- a week

According to the report, Foxconn has been recruiting around 10,000 assembly line workers each week since the last week of March. These workers will be based in Zhengzhou, its iPhone production plant.

Company executives declined further comment on the report, bar noting the company's plans to continue expanding its workforce in order to meet "seasonal demand from clients," the report explains.

These claims follow two contrasting claims in recent days: one report claimed Apple intends beginning iPhone production in the current quarter; while a later report claimed the production had been "delayed," citing "production difficulties." The latter report failed to explain how a product that has never been officially announced can actually be "delayed".

The next iPhone is expected to be a similar size and shape to the existing model, and may be dubbed the "iPhone 5S." Faster and with improved graphics, the new smartphone is expected to ship with a biometric security feature, fingerprint recognition.

Sightings

There's several additional recent unconfirmed claims concerning this device:

  • In a new research note, Topeka Capital Markets analyst, Brian White claims the volume and mute buttons on the new iPhone will be "arranged differently."
  • Apple's hot new feature is likely to be the fingerprint sensor, White also explains.
  • Recently leaked images of iPhone 5S components seem to show changes in the volume and mute buttons, the latter now seems likely to become a push button.
  • With a view to the iPhone mini, Apple seems on track with this project with analysts predicting this will consist of a curved plastic shell and be made available in multiple colors.

In related news, former Macromedia/Adobe engineer, Kevin Lynch, is expected to take charge of a team of former iPod engineers to work on new products, potentially including the much-rumored iWatch and also likely to involve Apple's further future adventures in wearable computing and connected devices.

In another step that's already raised speculation, Apple recently began recruiting engineers with specialist knowledge, tasked with investigating advanced display technologies, including flexible displays. Apple's move to explore advanced display technologies has implications across its product range.

The fight back begins

Apple seems likely to play hardball when it introduces its latest smartphone. Based on marketing chief, Phil Schiller's move to slam Android security recently, Apple seems likely to focus on four great strengths of the iPhone platform. That's in addition to offering an improved version of Passbook and fingerprint authentication, possibly in conjunction with NFC-type payment support, Apple could declare:

  • Apple is likely to declare iOS 7 the "world's most advanced operating system," and will point to the ease with which iPhone owners can upgrade their OS in contrast to the frustrating, often hopeless matter of upgrading an Android device.
  • Apple will also look to device security, and will take pains to point out interesting statistics, such as that Android devices are the target of 97 percent of mobile OS malware while Apple's iOS has been adopted by 58 percent of enterprises worldwide.
  • Apple may introduce evidence suggesting the superiority of the iPhone above other devices, presenting all manner of research confirming user satisfaction levels for iPhone users are far and away higher than those for other devices.

You get what you pay for...

By far the most damning evidence will consist of details concerning hardware return rates: Apple's iPhones are the most robust smartphones you can get.

A recent study reveals that a Samsung Galaxy SIII is the most fault-ridden device in the market, followed by the HTC Desire S and Nokia Lumia 610 -- the iPhone 5 doesn't even make the top ten (though the 4 and 4S do).

Samsung is sufficiently aware of how faulty its devices are that its executives are now scrambling to find a way to make its devices more reliable. (This bears with my anecdotal experience, at least two of my friends bought a heavily subsidized Samsung smartphone "because they are cheap," and now complain of patchy reception, performance and call quality in their devices, which seem to demand frequent restarts.)

In the event Apple chooses to become more aggressive in its war with competing manufacuturers, it will be able to prove its devices strengths as reliable, robust and secure smartphones consumers love to use, and for which software and security upgrades are easily available. Not only will Apple be able to make such claims as it introduces its next smartphone, but it will be in possession of ample evidence with which to back them up. With this release the company will consolidate the reputation that the iPhone is the "Rolls-Royce" of smartphones.

When it achieves this it will prove its domination at the high end of the smartphone market, just in time to release a more affordable iPhone variant that brings that reputation into the reach of many more consumers.

I still consider the iPhone 5S as a likely contender for introduction at WWDC in June, shipping (with iOS 7) in July with an iPhone mini set to hit the shops in time for Christmas.

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