How Apple built the iPhone, Apple Watch during coronavirus lockdowns

  • The pandemic posed a “huge challenge” to Apple’s hardware design process and resulted in major adjustments to the manufacturing process, hardware chief Dan Riccio told employees this week, according to a report from Bloomberg. 
  • Coronavirus lockdowns and travel restrictions hit the US in March, around the same time Apple typically launches manufacturing on the hardware products that debuted this past fall. 
  • Instead of sending employees to China like it usually does, Apple reportedly used robots and augmented reality to help employees work together.
  • US-based workers also adjusted their hours to better communicate with employees in China, Bloomberg reports. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

As the coronavirus began to spread in early March, it affected a crucial aspect of Apple’s business: hardware production. 

That’s according to a new report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, which detailed a recent virtual town hall meeting with Apple employees. At the meeting, top executives including CEO Tim Cook, COO Jeff Williams, software chief Eddy Cue, and hardware boss Dan Riccio updated employees on the company’s future plans and how they’ve grappled with the pandemic so far. 

According to Bloomberg, Riccio said the pandemic has posed a “huge challenge” for hardware design, which is usually done in person in a lab. And in the early weeks of lockdowns in March, travel restrictions meant Apple employees couldn’t go to China as manufacturing began on the hardware products that debuted this past fall.

Apple came up with workarounds to ensure the manufacturing process went smoothly: Engineers used robots, which they controlled from home, as well as iPads equipped with augmented-reality software, to work with the employees at its factories. They also adjusted their hours so they’d be able to work with the employees already in China, Bloomberg reports. 

Those changes paid off: Apple unveiled a slew of hardware products this fall, including four new iPhone models, a new Apple Watch, a HomePod Mini, and several new Macs. 

Apple, like most other Silicon Valley tech companies, has not sent its whole workforce back to the office since California’s stay-at-home orders forced offices to close down earlier this year. Cook said during an interview on the “Outside Podcast” this week that about 15% of employees are currently reporting to Apple Park, Apple’s Cupertino, California-based headquarters. 

During the same town hall meeting, Cook told employees that it “seems likely” most teams won’t return to the office before June 2021, according to Bloomberg.

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