NEW YORK - Apple CEO Tim Cook says the company will move production of one of its existing lines of Mac computers to the United States next year.
Industry-watchers said the announcement was both a cunning public-relations move and a harbinger of more manufacturing jobs moving to the United States as wages rise in China.
Cook made the comments in part of an interview taped for NBC's Rock Center but aired Thursday morning on Today and posted on the network's website.
In a separate interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, he said that the company would spend $100 million in 2013 to move production of the line to the United States from China.
"This doesn't mean that Apple will do it ourselves, but we'll be working with people and we'll be investing our money," Cook told Bloomberg.
That suggests Apple could be helping Foxconn Technology Group, its Taiwanese manufacturing partner, to set up a factory in the United States.
Apple representatives had no comment beyond Cook's remarks.
Like most consumer-electronics companies, Apple forges agreements with contract manufacturers to assemble its products overseas. However, assembly accounts for a fraction of the cost of making a PC or smartphone. Most of the cost lies in buying chips, and many are made in this country, Cook noted in his NBC interview.
The company and Foxconn have faced significant criticism this year over working conditions at the Chinese facilities where Apple products are assembled. The attention prompted Foxconn to raise salaries.
Cook did not say which line of computers would be produced in the United States or where in the country they would be made. But he told Bloomberg that the production would include more than just final assembly. That suggests machining of cases and printing of circuit boards could take place in this country.
Since the Mac Pro and Mac Mini desktops lack the built-in screens of the MacBooks and iMacs, they would likely be easier to separate from the Asian display supply chain.
Regardless, the U.S. manufacturing line is expected to represent just a tiny piece of Apple's overall production, with sales of iPhones and iPads now dwarfing those of its computers.
Carl Howe, an analyst with Yankee Group, likened Apple's move to Henry Ford's famous 1914 decision to double his workers' pay, helping to build a middle class that could afford to buy cars. But Howe said Cook's goal was probably more limited: to buy goodwill from U.S. consumers.