It’s been only a month since I first traveled to China, and have started reporting on tidbits about China and things Chinese from the ground up. Many of my friends, colleagues and readers told me that a flood of comments posted by EE Times community members’ after each of my China stories is actually more revealing than my reporting.
I take no offense, because I feel the same way.
A former colleague of mine, now resident in Beijing, wrote to me this morning: “I am enjoying the comments your China stories are eliciting almost as much as the stories. Some are funny and some disturbing… A bit frightening is how little both sides understand each other.”
I couldn’t agree more.
China remains largely a mystery to most of us – me included. I still know very little, and the more people I interview, the less I feel as though I know their real stories.
Similarly, I find Chinese people’s understanding is limited, especially when it comes to how fearful the U.S. engineering community is about China.
Both sides remain caught up in pre-conceived notions of what the other side is like; they cherry-pick anecdotal evidence (which is often a valuable piece in a bigger picture), and use it to reinforce what they think they know.
I think it’s time to take a deep breath and step back – for all of us.
Here are a few good examples. Every time I write anything about China’s speed of design and production – which to me is one of the vital elements of Chinese success, I get reactions from our readers about the poor quality of China’s products. And this is a salient criticism. I get a steady flow of feedback – not just on our site, but in casual conversation – about an Android phone someone just bought in China; and already it’s going haywire.
When I met in Beijing a vice president of engineering who works for a U.S. chip company, he was emphatic: “Junko, the quality of some of those phones is bad. But this isn’t because they can’t get it right; it’s because they don’t want to.”
A little stumped by what I thought I heard him say, I asked, “What do you mean? Are you saying that they are intentionally making bad phones?”
No, he said. “They are more interested in turning out more phones they can sell -- quickly. It’s just that they don’t want to take the time to make a perfect phone.”
He pointed out the glaring exception to the stereotype: “Guess where all the iPhones are coming from? They are made by Foxconn in China. It’s not like Chinese don’t know how to manufacture good quality products.”
Meanwhile, I received an e-mail this afternoon from Allen Wu, ARM China’s president. Referring to my story, "Why TI does MCU design in Shanghai," Wu wrote to me: “I fully agree with your comments on ‘China Speed.’ Products don’t necessarily need to be designed in China, but companies needs to respond in ‘China Speed’ to be successful,” especially as China becomes one of the leading markets for the chip industry, he explained.
Wu noted, “If you look at the start-up culture in the Valley, I would put ‘speed,’ fast decision-making and response to market, as one of the clear top reasons for success --along with passion, commitment, etc.”
Wu’s conclusion is that the principles of Silicon Valley work equally well in China, from winning markets to winning the hearts and minds of employees. It really comes down to the ability to adjust execution to local markets and environments in ‘China speed.’
His point that China and Silicon Valley are driven – perhaps to a fault -- by “speed” is well taken. I hasten to agree.
What’s different, though, in my observation is that China’s speed is multiplied several times now, largely because China has elements in its ‘ecosystem’ – ranging from component suppliers to software developers and contract manufacturers – who can accelerate even further. Their end products eventually get to the market faster, too.
The story of China speed vs. China quality is something we’re going to keep probing at EE Times. Your comments and analysis – even the anecdotal stuff – are always welcome. But let’s hold off, on both sides, being too judgmental about each other — until we’ve all learned a little more.
"It’s just that they don’t want to take the time to make a perfect phone". Yes I agree. The marketshare is the king not the quality. Because everything changes so fast and people don't need a long last high quality phone and more prefer a fashionable one.
I have been reading your column for some time now. As one who has had to deal with Chinese manufacturing sources, and dealt with the communication headaches associated with quality control (the Chinese could not understand why having water in a sealed retail package was a problem - when shown the resulting rusted connector in photographs, they replied "but it doesn't affect the use of the product...")
Language barriers are the least of the issues - the cultural differences which lead to (usually wrong) assumptions are a huge hurdle for most companies to overcome.
The first tektronix oscilloscope to be produced in China was on the market less than six months before an identical Chinese "clone" was brought to market - care to guess where the schematics and plastic molds came from?
Theft is theft, and until China respects intellectual property law, they will be viewed as little more than thugs by the rest of the world.
@Gearhead:China does produce low quality products only because there're demonds for them. Same theory, if high quality products are asked, Chinese are able to produce it flawlessly, of course at higher price. This is why a pair of socks, and a screw, are made in China and smart phones, PCs and ATVs are made in China too. This is so simple to understand.
If you really had a head, you must know the so called 'almost perfect' iPad & iPhone are made in China too. How are they made in China if China is of bad quality?
You can believe the iPhones&iPads are made by thefts and thugs, it is your head on your own neck. But, truly, they are not made by stupid idiots.
@JeffLiCES - I think you just proved my point about cultural differences and communication.
I did not use the term "stupid idiots" nor did I claim that China products are of "bad quality." However, I suggest you continue reading, and judge for yourself.
Hong Kong and mainland China have a justly deserved reputation for copying, manufacturing, and selling "clone" product (DVDs, copies of Microsoft Office software, and all sorts of electronic devices come to mind).
Melamine in baby formula, dog food that results in huge numbers of animals dead or injured - the world views all of these events and makes generalizations about China (the people, as well as the government).
Until China recognizes theft as theft, and deals with criminals accordingly, the rest of the world will continue to view China with a jaundiced eye.
"Until China recognizes theft as theft, and deals with criminals accordingly, the rest of the world will continue to view China with a jaundiced eye."
Were the West or European countries( who built their wealth and industrialized), have done it with "scruples" ?
Does the rest of world view them with a "jaundiced eye" ?
Well said Gearhead, It is clear to me that JeffLices read your comments and took them to heart.
There are many good changes in China, (personal income, education level, etc) but the examples you highlight are but a sample of end result of poor oversight from their government. Thieves and scoundrels exist in all countries, good morals and ethics are not exclusive to a single or few countries. Just a personal point of view.
China produce low quality products.
Major products are produced from china.
The swtich power supply and ipad, iphone are from china.
I am power engineer working in emerson network power and foxconn technology group for years.
Chinese are hard working native.
There are many factors contributing to the good/ poor quality of a product. Management is crucial. Educational background of the workers is another. There is no doubt China still has a long way to go. Nonetheless, with proper management and talent, China is able to deliver high quality product. Take an iPhone, iPad as example. Huawei is doing really well too. I'd worked with 2 engineers from Huawei. Their knowledge and skills are really measured up. I am so grateful to their working attribute and their willingness to make multiple extra steps for the team.
As for the speed, there are still little product innovation from China. R&D in China may be closer to integration than to technologies experimentation and product creation. Yet, I am already seeing a couple new and better ideas from China. Check out youku.com and compare it to youtube.com. China is moving in a really fast pace. When will they finish the catch-up game? Only time can tell. Maybe, the China Olympics swim team will give us some insight. ;)
I love hearing about your personal experience working with Huawei engineers, Chanj.
Nothing can beat the first-hand experience to understand what's going on.
As for your comment about R&D in China, I agree...that seems to be the case most of the time.
However, things are beginning to change as a multinational like Marvell investing in installing big R&D teams right there in Shanghai and Nanjing.
See the story below:
Chanj - You make an excellent comment and I agree. Having worked in quality control in China for over 12 years, it's clear to me that China really is changing in regard to their ability to both produce quality product and innovate. That said, one point here is that OVERSIGHT is key when working with a China manufacturer.
Below, Dylan points out that the Apple success story (of making a quality product in China) is one that is a great example of how a company has produced super high quality product in China. And Apple's key here is clear, consistent, and transparent directions, and oversight.
Companies like Apple and those that have been successful in China use services from from 3rd parties to monitor and inspect the quality of the product, such as these: http://www.intouch-quality.com/services/product-inspections-in-china/product-specific-inspection-types/electric-component-inspections/
@JeffLiCES - Jeff, I think you just proved my point about cultural differences (as well as communication barriers).
It is clear that you "assumed" many things here - I did not use the term "stupid idiots" nor did I claim that the iPhone and iPad are of poor quality, or stolen.
English is a very imprecise language to begin with, and it appears that english is not your native tongue - that is not meant to be derogatory, just trying to establish a foundation for communication.
I have been fortunate to have traveled to many parts of the world, and have seen the best and worst of human behavior.
Hong Kong (and mainland China) have had a justly deserved reputation for illegally copying, manufacturing, and selling(DVDs, for example - or knock-off electronic products like fake tektronix oscilloscopes and iPods).
Until China as a nation recognizes and addresses this as a real problem and takes pains to correct this, the rest of the world will continue to look down upon the Chinese.
It isn't an issue of poor quality or intellectual inferiority - but rather an issue of acknowledging rightful ownership of property (intellectual, or otherwise).
@ Gearhead, I think his point is you are paying 3rd rate contractor price and expecting 1st rate service, that won't happen.
my own experience, if you want to buy anything important, complex you better go for a brand name one, ie TV, cars.
I risked cheap drills from online vendors, 1 dead after couple of years and I got another cheap one... since i only drill a handful of holes.
ibm221, you've said "you are paying 3rd rate contractor price and expecting 1st rate service, that won't happen." Unfortunately, this is already happening. You'd be surprised how many customers are doing this and how fierce competition is between mfg contractors.
Your experience on the drill is a good example. I guess the point is that Good "ten-year-lifetime" products are a thing of the past, let's get over this once and for all. If we buy a product for cheap and it works for more than it's "warranty" then that's great. But to expect a product "in this day and age" to last our parents electronic gizmos....now that would be an anomaly.
Junko, I agree with your thesis. The comments are always interesting to read. I believe there is much misunderstanding on both sides. China is a hot button issue for engineers in the West, and you can understand why. But I worry that people have jumped to conclusions. The example of the Apple products is a great one, and one that belongs in any discussion of the quality of products made in China.
But, these are Apple products, made to Apple specs, and managed by Apple. On the other hand, products designed by Chinese companies, mfgd by Chinese companies with their own QA standards, that's a totally different story.
Made in China is still a bad name. Most electronic devices are made in China now. For the most part, the quality is good. It depends on the company that is controling the production to know if the quaility is there.
maxmin I have to agree with your statement "What you pay is what you get". A lot of the customers right now technically pay the price of a "popcorn" but expect to get a "burger and fries" in return. China or any Far East Asian Manufacturing are not charity houses, like any industry, they have to churn out a decent profit. BUT these days, most customers turn the screws on VERY tight to the point that profit margins are VERY SLIM. This is were the problem lays and obviously will be the root of quality problems.
I never blame Chinese workers or companies for poor quality. I realize that it's usually the US based company that is pushing the sub-contracters for faster and cheaper products, which are the root cause of poor quality.
I personally have found that products from Chinese companies, i.e. designed and built in China, usually exceed the quality of products that are "off-shored" by US companies.
I love Junko's observation that, "we cherry-pick anecdotal evidence" to prove a point. Yes, we all do it. But US based companies will need to come to the realization that there is no "free lunch" in China. When you push workers to work long hours and slash costs to the bone, there is always a down side to quality. This is not an opinion; it's been proven in studies time and time again.
Personally, I believe a most important factor is not mentioned here yet---the "Performance/Price Ratio". Very few people are thirsty to extreme Performance(high quality) and very few people to extreme Price(very cheap) either. Most of us want a reasonable quality at a reasonable price, i.e, a reasonable Ratio. From this perspective, Chinese products have a very good Performance/Price Ratio over all.
As I understood China while being there on routine visits for over a year, is that Chinese can make a good product as well as a cheap product depending upon how much you are ready to pay for it. If you bargain for a cheaper price you will get a inferior product but if you demand quality you must be ready to shell out the right price. The Chinese will never say 'NO' to your requirement. They will match your price with the "appropriate " quality. And this they do it so smartly that unless you are an expert buyer you will feel never know it.
"The Chinese will never say 'NO' to your requirement. They will match your price with the "appropriate " quality.". Very well said. This is the point. No one manufacturer wants to decline a customer at ANY pricesin China. They can always find a way to solve it. This is a resilience developed under great competition. Think about those Chinese businessmen who became millionares by manufacturing needles and thread.
The primary reason for poor quality is profit taking in the production to retail chain.
In the old days, a US made product made by a brand-name producer might have cost, say, $3 to produce and sold for $10. It was worth the brand-name producer's effort to spend an extra 50c on QA etc to reduce returned goods.
Now, the product is made in China for $1. There is less margin for that 50c of QA etc. The brand-name producer makes more profit than they do. If they get returned goods then it is almost pain free to send a replacement.
The manufacturer is under increased pressure to reduce their costs and remain profitable as wages rise. No wonder they will shave pennies off cost which will result in inferior products.
Nowhere is this more evident than in power tools. If you buy a $20 power sander, odds are that the bearings fail first. If that bearing was replaced with a slightly better bearing (say 20c more) it would last as well as a $100 sander. But the manufacturer is being squeezed. He's only being paid $2 for a sander and that 20c is probably enough to make a loss.
If you want to blame anyone for quality, blame the middle men.
Join our online Radio Show on Friday 11th July starting at 2:00pm Eastern, when EETimes editor of all things fun and interesting, Max Maxfield, and embedded systems expert, Jack Ganssle, will debate as to just what is, and is not, and embedded system.