The connection between theory of design and industry evolution is really instigating to think about how technology is embedded in society. Technology can be the engine of some changes, but can also be a consequence of that. Studying the relationship between economic and technological phenomena is really powerful.
When I was in Japan 3 months ago, I had the opportunity to have a longer conversation with two random Chinese men on vacation there, and both worked for the cellphone industry. One seemed to be the owner of a company which produces very small pieces of a cellphone, that I can’t even explain. The other was an employee of a company that produces glasses for cellphones displays. I started to imagine how many small companies can exist to produce very, very small pieces for this increasing mobile phone market all around the globe?
The distribution of the supply chain of this industry, however, doesn’t show the core aspect of it. How the modular characteristic of both devices and their production can alter the power relations involved on this dynamic? Producing the part doesn’t allow one to produce the whole. The definition of the design and the module and interconnection standards are in the core of the power relations.
In the past, in developing countries like Brazil, we used to criticize our economy for providing orange to developed countries for then, buying ready-to-drink orange juice. How does this differ from the production of small parts for electronic devices? Is this only a move from rural to urban production? If the national industry doesn’t incorporate the capacity for being in charge of the definition of the “visible design rules” – the architecture, the interfaces and the standards – as well as the hidden design parameters (Baldwin and Clark), no changes in the power relation between developed and developing countries will be seen.
But there are some interesting movements happening. I wonder if the companies that produce iphone micro-parts are the same ones that produce Huawei and ZTE components. Are these Chinese companies unexpected consequences of modularity? Huawei phones, particularly, are so appealing and have so good prices, that governments like the U.S. need to act in other layers, such as market regulation, to control their entrance. Cybersecurity issues are also part of the concerns.
Although I have more questions than answers, there are some tips around us. I just bought a new Samsung phone and it is said to be “made in China”. The same occurs with iphones, according to what I read on this article: http://www.macworld.co.uk/feature/apple/are-apple-products-truly-designed-in-california-made-in-china-iphonese-3633832/ Interestingly, the journalist here tries to explain the supply chain of an iphone and where its components are produced. This becomes a very tricky task. Because modules are composed by very micro components, when listing the companies and countries where the small parts of an iphone are built, the list isn’t able to show the preponderance of China. Instead, it seems to show where the modules are assembled (please see the list on the article). This is fascinating. How many layers below the journalist would need to go to have a list that would really explain why an iphone has a “made in China” message on it? I don’t know.