Apple has begun making iPhone 14s in India, as it moves some production away from China for the first time against a backdrop of Chinese Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns and geopolitical tensions between the US and the country’s communist government.
A production line in Chennai has begun operation, assembling the iPhone 14 for the domestic Indian market. The move, which marks the first time the company has assembled iPhones outside of China in the same year they were released, is part of a plan to disentangle its manufacturing operations from the Chinese state.
Apple unveiled its latest line-up of iPhones earlier this month. The iPhone 14 will have improved cameras, faster processors and longer lasting batteries at the same prices as last year’s models.
India is the world’s second-largest smartphone market after China and Apple has been assembling phones there since 2017. But until now, manufacturing operations in the country, alongside similar operations in Brazil, had been focused on assembling older models.
According to a report from analysts at JP Morgan, Apple is aiming to produce a quarter of all iPhone 14s in India by 2025, and the same proportion of all its products outside China by the same date, compared with about 5% now. The company also intends to produce a fifth of all its iPads and Apple Watches, and more than half of all its AirPods, in factories in Vietnam by the same date.
Relations between China and the US have become increasingly strained, causing difficulties for Apple.
This summer, Apple requested suppliers in Taiwan – including chip manufacturers – to label the origin of their products as “Chinese Taipei” in order to comply with a long-standing but previously unenforced Chinese rule that requires imported goods to falsely suggest the island is part of the People’s Republic of China. The request followed the US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei.
Taiwan has an opposite rule, requiring products be labelled as either “Taiwan” or the country’s official name, “Republic of China”.
The choice to require suppliers to deny Taiwan’s independent existence has led to criticism from around the world.
GreatFire, which works against Chinese censorship online, noted that the move was an escalation from a previous decision by Apple, which removed the Taiwan flag from emoji keyboards for users in China and Hong Kong.
“Is it a question of time before Apple starts removing apps whose name contains the characters [for] Taiwan without specifying ‘province of China’?” the organisation asked.