NEW YORK — Apple CEO Tim Cook says the company will move production of one of its existing lines of Mac computers to the United States next year.
Industry watchers said the announcement is both a cunning public relations move and a harbinger of more manufacturing jobs moving back to the U.S. as wages rise in China.
Cook made the comments in part of an interview taped for NBC's Rock Center, but aired Thursday morning on Today and posted on the network's website.
In a separate interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, he said that the company will spend $100 million in 2013 to move production of the line to the U.S. from China.
"This doesn't mean that Apple will do it ourselves, but we'll be working with people and we'll be investing our money," Cook told Bloomberg.
That suggests the company could be helping its Taiwanese manufacturing partner Foxconn Technology Group to set up a factory in the United States.
Apple representatives had no comment Thursday beyond Cook's remarks.
Apple and Foxconn have faced significant criticism this year over working conditions at the Chinese facilities where Apple products are assembled. The attention prompted Foxconn to raise salaries.
Cook didn't say which line of computers would be produced in the U.S. or where in the country they would be made. But he told Bloomberg that the production would include more than just final assembly. That suggests that the machining of cases and the printing of circuit boards could take place in the U.S.
Regardless, the U.S. manufacturing line is expected to represent just a tiny piece of Apple's overall production.
Chinese wages are raising 15 to 20 percent per year, said Hal Sirkin, a partner with the Boston Consulting Group. U.S. wages are rising much more slowly, and this country is a cheap place to hire compared to other developed countries like Germany, France and Japan, he said.
"Across a lot of industries, companies are rethinking their strategy of where the manufacturing takes place," Sirkin said.
Cook said in his interview with NBC that companies like Apple chose to produce their products in places like China, not because of the lower costs associated with it, but because the manufacturing skills required just aren't present in the U.S. anymore.
He added that the consumer electronics world has never really had a big production presence in the U.S. As a result, it's really more about starting production in the U.S. than bringing it back, he said.