I think there’s several things going on here, none of which has to do with a good operational decision. Is Apple moving some manufacturing to the United States a move from weakness or strength?
First and foremost this is a political statement. Apple has been lamenting the ability to manufacture in the US due to a talent deficit. There’s plenty of talent here, but the problem is that China can simply iterate and pivot faster due to the geographic proximity of design, manufacturing, and labor. Look at how quickly they are able ramp-up production of new products or tackle the initial quality problems with the iPhone 5, labor problems not withstanding.
Then there’s the uncertainty with corporate profits and taxes. One of the legitimate beefs is that profits are offshored to avoid paying taxes. I’d bet this is a token offering to quell those complaints.
Lastly is the China problem, in general. The Chinese excel at reverse engineering, far better than say the Soviets during the Cold War but not as good as the Japanese. I’d say they have climbed learning curve far better than either. All of those manufacturing concerns who fled to China for cheap labor have ended up building factories for their competition (most are joint ventures partially-owned by the state), training their future competitors workforce, and formally and informally transferring their intellectual property. I’ve made this complaint previously with regards to automakers, but I think it applies across the board.
One need not look any further than the frenemy situation between Apple and Samsung (noting that Samsung is a South Korean company). Apple has long partnered with Samsung for chips, processors, and screen technology. This has allowed Samsung to rapidly build the competencies needed to rival their own client, a situation that is causing Apple to frequently go it alone and take their relationship to the courts.
Put me down that a small shift to US manufacturing is a defensive move.