Life as an Apple supplier is lucrative because of the high volumes but painful because of the strings attached. When Apple asks for a price quote for parts such as touchscreens, it demands a detailed accounting of how the manufacturer arrived at the quote, including its estimates for material and labor costs, and its own projected profit. Apple requires many key suppliers to keep two weeks of inventory within a mile of Apple’s assembly plants in Asia, and sometimes doesn’t pay until as long as 90 days after it uses a part, according to an executive who has consulted for Apple and would not speak on the record for fear of compromising the relationship.
Not every supplier gives in. An executive who works with a major parts manufacturer says that Apple’s bargaining tactics tend to exert downward pressure on prices, leading to lower profits and margins. After months of negotiations, the company declined a $1 billion payment from Apple that would have required the supplier to commit much of its manufacturing capacity to Cupertino’s products. The executive familiar with these talks, who asked not to be named because the discussions were not public, says that while deals featuring $1 billion in cash up front are basically unheard of, his company didn’t want to be too dependent on Apple—and didn’t want to help it deflate prices.