Apple has been on a hiring “blitz” the last two years, snatching up hundreds of engineers and supply chain managers in China and Taiwan, the Wall Street Journal reported March 3, citing people familiar with the matter.
The iPhone maker has used LinkedIn to connect with and lure away engineers from smartphone rival HTC, and now has a staff in China that’s more than 600 employees strong, said the report. While research and development will remain in California, the new positions in China range from hardware development to software assurance.
The aggressive effort has several motivating factors.
“Apple is building an engineering team in Taipei to drive new iPhone product development,” an Apple recruit told the Journal.
The need to speed development is no small matter for a company that says its sells the best products on Earth—but in recent years has done so at a pace that has investors pacing.
The iPhone 5S wasn’t a full evolution away from its predecessor (as indicated by the S, and not an iPhone 6 label), and in 2013 Apple didn’t introduce a television or a smartwatch, as analysts had long been forecasting.
In January, BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk told investors that his firm assumed Apple would release a product in fiscal 2014 that would generate $5 billion. “That new product never materialized,” Piecyk told investors. “We can’t say we aren’t concerned.”
During Apple’s Jan. 27 earnings call, CEO Tim Cook wouldn’t confirm whether Apple would this year launch a new product category, telling analysts only, “I think our customers are going to love what we’re going to do.”
The matter of innovation is also a precipitously escalating one, as smartphones grow thinner and lighter and capable of ever more feats. The Samsung Galaxy S5, introduced last week, is the first smartphone with an integrate heart-rate monitor.
Another factor is the logistical need to meet the growing demand for Apple products, as Apple expands its reach into China. After years of rumored negotiations, Apple this year signed a deal with China Mobile, which with 760 million customers is the largest carrier in the world, by far.
During Apple’s January earnings call, Cook wouldn’t offer guidance on how many iPhones the company expects to sell as a result of the deal, but he did say that the iPhone is currently selling in 16 cities with China Mobile and expects to be in more than 300 cities by year’s end.
“From a common sense point of view,” Cook told one analyst, “China Mobile has more than … three-quarters of a billion [subscribers], so I do see it as a watershed moment for Apple and have a very, very strong belief in the abilities of the two companies to do great things together.”
According to the Journal, Apple is also hiring to increase the number of supply chain managers it has, in response to criticisms over the conditions at its factories.
Apple manufacturing partner Foxconn has been in the spotlight since 2010, when at least a dozen employees made individual efforts to commit suicide by throwing themselves from the roofs of dormitory towers and, among other incidents, in 2012 an explosion in a plant producing iPads killed three workers.
Apple has invited the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to conduct voluntary audits of its factory partners, and Cook has long been insistent that Apple’s efforts, in regard to the environment and human rights, go far beyond those of its competitors.
During Apple’s Feb. 28 shareholders meeting, Cook, according to several reports, became visibly angry—a public first—after a representative from a conservative think tank asked Cook to pursue sustainability efforts only if they were profitable.
“When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don’t consider the bloody ROI,” Cook answered, his body language changed and his sentences coming out “rapid fire,” instead of in their usual metered way, the Mac Observer reported.
“If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons,” Cook added, reportedly staring down the representative, “you should get out of this stock.”