Apple AirPods production in Vietnam strategically shielded against future SMIC related problems

Numerous tech industry media outlets reported early this summer that Apple has started manufacturing AirPods Pro in Vietnam.

One of the main components that are used in AirPods Pro is the NOR Flash. Each piece of Apple AirPods contains a 128MB NOR Flash chip, while the density of NOR Flash chips used in other TWS Bluetooth earphones ranges between 16MB and 64MB.


There are three main producers of NOR Flash in the global electronics supply chain

In terms of Global NOR Flash suppliers, Macronix leads the pack in not only market share but also process technology.

Macronix NOR Flash Apple AirPods
Image Source: Macronix

Windbond is the second leading supplier trailing closely behind Macronix and currently manufactures with the 58nm and 90nm nodes. 

Third-place GigaDevice, based in China, has made great strides with respect to raising output and product quality in recent years.

Furthermore, GigaDevice is already recognized for its R&D capability as it has managed to capture orders for NOR Flash chips used in Apple AirPods but that could be changing soon since its wafer input is distributed between its foundry partners SMIC and HLMC.

SMIC is currently the subject of new bans from the Trump administration.

Based on the export orders flowing into Vietnam this year, it appears that Apple may have already moved some of its NOR Flash orders to Macronix.AirPods Vietnam production

According to a story featured on Nikkei early this summer,

“The mass production of AirPods in Vietnam started as early as in March,” a person familiar with the matter said. “The Vietnamese officials even granted special permits for a key Apple AirPods assembler to help the company bring in engineers to the country for smooth production during lockdowns.” Vietnam began easing some lockdown measures in late April.

2020, the year of uncertainty

No export orders from GigaDevice or Windbond to Vietnam could be located for 2020 and the timing of the Macronix NOR flash import orders into Vietnam coincides with the time the production of AirPods started in Vietnam.  

Macronix’s chairman Wu Minqiu also recently said that Macronix’s performance in the third quarter will not disappoint.

If these reports are true, it should help Apple in cushioning some of the supply chain shocks if SMIC is banned by the current administration and more importantly Apple customers should still be able to get their AirPods delivered in time for Holidays.

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Sudz Niel Kar
I am a technologist with years of experience with Apple and wearOS products, have a BS in Computer Science and an MBA specializing in emerging tech, and owned the popular site AppleToolBox. In my day job, I advise Fortune 500 companies with their digital transformation strategies and also consult with numerous digital health startups in an advisory capacity. I'm VERY interested in exploring the digital health and fitness-tech evolution and keeping a close eye on patents, FDA approvals, strategic partnerships, and developments happening in the wearables and digital health sector. When I'm not writing or presenting, I run with my Apple Watch Ultra or Samsung Galaxy Watch and closely monitor my HRV and other recovery metrics.


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