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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Made in China: It Might be Expensive, But it's Still Junk

One of the downsides of made-in-China stuff is that, while it might be cheap, it's still junk.  It's just that, ten years ago, in general you only got junk if you were buying the same.

In the past week, I've had the following items die on me:

a) My iPhone headset.

b) An adapter plug to use a conventional headset with my iPhone.

c) A Logitech wireless mouse.

d) A wireless router.

None of these items were cheap off-brand knock-offs.  They were all either relatively high-end products or accessories.  None of them was much more than a year old (the router, I believe, was the oldest item at thirteen months).

(Continued after the break, if you want to learn a lot more about my present and future electronics)

The interesting thing is that, for the most part, I replaced these with more or less identical items.  Indeed - I drove literally minutes ahead of the snowstorm which blanketed the Lower Mainland in order to replace my iPhone headset at the AT&T store in Bellingham, WA (yes, I realize that this is probably further evidence that I'm deranged, but I'm cool with that).  The mouse, I bought another Logitech mouse - but actually went up to one of their VX Revolution models.

But, for the most part, that was because of a lack of a reasonable alternative.

My point isn't just to whine - it's that there's a market opening here.  If someone were to manufacture products of a deliberately superior quality - and to advertise touting their relaibility at fairly reasonable prices - I would pay a premium.

Indeed, I'm in the market to consolidate my mess of computers (three in use at present) into a single unit, for reasons of portability.  I'm looking at either getting one of the current-generation MacBook Pro's refurbished from Apple, or waiting for the Penryn-based Pro's to ship.  But, frankly, as an avid reader of Apple forums, I'm a little concerned about the generation-after-generation reliability problems that we've seen in the Pro's (everything in the first gen, and all sorts of LED-related fun in the present gen).  The result is that I'm thinking of a T62 ThinkPad as an alternative which, despite also being Chinese-made, seems to have a much better track record so far as reliability is concerned.

Though, I don't think that will happen - since I'm kind of in love with the MacBook Pro.  More than kind-of, actually.  I want a brand-new one as badly as...  Well, I'll just leave it at that.

Of course, the biggest part of the manufacturing problem is that the Chinese are able to work unbelievably cheaply becuase they've replicated in an economic sense their traditional approach to warfare - the human wave.  When you have a lot of people and don't care too much about their living conditions (don't have to care, for that matter) you can simply throw people into producing notebook computers - or at machine gun nests - and eventually numbers will tell, unless technology offsets mass.

And there's where the West's real chance lies.  Human waves aren't terribly effective against people with fully automatic weapons.  "For we have got the Maxim gun, and they have not," said the British a century ago.  That's the real secret to beating back the Chinese economic threat - we need the economic equivilant of a Maxim gun. 

Posted by Adam T. Yoshida on January 30, 2008 in Web/Tech | Permalink


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I have had two Microsoft mouse fail in the last year. In both cases the left button became intermittent. It was also manufactured in China.

A few years ago we were buying rack-mount computer chassis which were made in Taiwan. The quality was excellent. The company then moved the manufacturing to China , and immediately we could see the decline in quality.

Posted by: Brian | 2008-01-30 6:58:57 AM

Question: What's a fiscal conservative doing buying a Jailbroken iPhone, essentially voluntarily paying early-adopter taxes?

Posted by: Pattern Recognition | 2008-01-30 8:34:36 AM

I didn't buy a jailbroken iPhone. I bought an iPhone and then jailbroke and unlocked it myself.

Posted by: Adam Yoshida | 2008-01-30 9:41:28 AM

something else to keep in mind for CE devices manufactured in the last year or so(and going forward) is "tin whiskers"

Posted by: mafwoj | 2008-01-30 9:56:47 AM

Good call, mafwoj | 30-Jan-08 9:56:47 AM

Tin Whiskers:

No doubt the Chinese won't be using non-leaded solders in their military or space program applications because of environmental concerns.

Posted by: Speller | 2008-01-30 10:05:02 AM

another thing often ignored, is that companies like Logitech use the same sweated labor as the sports shoes makers.

the shoe guys get criticised and picketed; the similar manufacturing antics of the Logitechs of this world get ignored.

Posted by: maxoz | 2008-01-30 3:01:12 PM

...one day we will realize what a crappy world we live in.

By then, Walmart will have successfully forced out all competition and all products will be made in China.

Consumers will revolt, but they can't even drive or ride to the protest because of Chinese made cars and bikes breaking down.

The organizer will be yelling directions and chants through his loudspeaker when it craps out because it was made in...

Even the Flamingo Pink felt pen for the posters will run out of ink because it was made in...

Posted by: tomax7 | 2008-01-30 7:06:19 PM

Why single out Wal Mart? Go to the Bay and Zellers and most any other store and you will find all sorts of products made in China. Even when you look for fine Henkel knives, they will probably have been assembled in China.

Posted by: DML | 2008-01-30 10:58:30 PM

The "economic equivalent of a Maxim gun" is economic freedom!

Posted by: Seyitbek Usmanov | 2008-01-30 11:33:46 PM

I'm in the renovation industry. I have to replace power tools and blades twice as often. I've had to return "made in China" materials, plywoods etc. as being of such poor quality as to be unusable.
Of course I pass these costs along with inflationary costs in general on to the consumer....so where is the savings?
And its not all that much cheaper than things were 10 years ago. Not only are the savings and profits going mostly to the corporations "outsourcing" the manufacturing to cheaper labor...but its still just junk.

Posted by: JC | 2008-01-31 5:54:23 AM

Let's not blame the Chinese. These are American products made by American companies. These companies have chosen to compete on price rather than quality and have driven their manufacturing to a place where labor is cheap, exploitable, and where environmental regulations are more lax. Their manufacturing is done in China and their customer support no doubt comes from India or some other cheap 3rd world country. In short, you are buying products from companies out to make a buck, not sell you a quality product.

Posted by: Jeff Salazar | 2008-02-28 2:38:21 PM

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