Apple iPhone Shortage Looms as Workers in China's 'iPhone City' Protest Harsh Treatment

Workers are protesting in the country, and it's trickling down to the factory where the iPhone 14 Pro is made.

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
A photo of the iPhone 14 Pro Max
The iPhone 14 Pro Max in Deep Purple.
Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo

If you’re still holding out for a new iPhone 14 Pro in the next few months, you might want to decide whether or not to upgrade soon. Bloomberg reports that Apple is facing a “production shortfall” due to protests at its manufacturing plants overseas.

The tip comes from a “person familiar with assembly operations,” although Bloomberg has a strong track record in this area. If you spent time avoiding your family online over the holiday week, you likely encountered videos of mass protests at Chinese factories over the country’s stringent COVID restrictions. Unless, possibly, you get your news from Twitter.

Production will depend on whether Foxconn, the Taiwan-based manufacturing company that Apple contracts with to make the iPhone, can settle with its workers. The mass protests were reportedly sparked in part by harsh or unfair covid regulations, ire over unpaid wages, and possibly a fire in another part of the country that killed ten workers.

Advertisement

The iPhone-making factory potentially facing some of the biggest delays is located in Zhengzhou—dubbed “iPhone city.” It’s not the only one impacted, but the factory is known for producing the iPhone’s Pro variants. At its busiest time, it can host up to 200,000 workers.

Analysts are estimating the latest lockdowns and protests could affect about 6 million iPhone “Pro units” for the rest of the year, which includes the iPhone 14 Pro/Pro Max—arguably the two models most worth the upgrade, given their improved camera systems, next-gen processor, and Emergency SOS via satellite feature.

Advertisement

Apple and Foxconn plan to “make up” the 6 million units in lost output in 2023, says Bloomberg’s source. They’ve offered no comment in response to the current protests, though they said earlier in November that shipments of the premium iPhone would be lower than expected because of the lockdowns.

The high turnover of workers has significantly exacerbated the delays at the Foxconn factory, which was already losing workers because of a food shortage. Foxconn has attempted to offer bonuses for those willing to work through the next two months, and continues pursuing new hires.

Advertisement

Apple will likely see a hit from China’s COVID policies, not just in unit numbers. This news is a harsh reminder of what happens behind the scenes of smartphone and gadget production, particularly during a neverending pandemic. We’ll keep an eye on the situation in China as it develops.

Amir Anvarzadehn, an analyst with Asymmetric Advisors interviewed by Bloomberg, believes this will encourage Apple to seek out “alternative manufacturing locations” in other parts of the world, namely India and Vietnam.

Update 11/30/22 at 1:50 PM:

China has lifted lockdown restrictions in and around “iPhone City” after mass protests in Zhengzhou, though only slightly. According to Bloomberg, China will remove “mobility controls” and replace them with “normal” COVID-combatting measures. Folks on the outside of high-risk areas won’t undergo mandatory COVID testing as long as they stay in their homes, although some buildings will continue to face stronger regulations.

Despite the update, it is unlikely to move the dial on iPhone production. Foxconn still needs to secure workers on the line to get phones put together, though it’s still attempting to woo them in with financial incentives. The district in which “iPhone City” is located is following Zhengzhou’s lead in easing restrictions, though it’s unclear if this will affect the Foxconn plant’s closed loop system, the specifics of which have been central to the protests.