Apple is not the only technological fruit

Wilson’s world

David Wilson is editor of Engineeringtalk and Electronicstalk and associate editor of The Engineer

Despite the fact that he has taken indefinite medical leave from Apple Computer, last week Steve Jobs took the stage in San Francisco to take the wraps off the iPad2, the company’s new tablet computer.

Thinner and faster than its predecessor, the new machine certainly looks like another winner for the California company that has already shipped millions of the earlier version of the product to its customers around the world.

The attraction of Jobs’ appearance and the device itself certainly caught the attention of the world’s press who extensively covered the launch in television programmes, in magazines and on the Internet.

But as important as the new product might be for the company, I can’t help but thinking that far too much publicity was showered on the product by the media, who now seem to view the word ’technology’ as synonymous with anything to do with Apple Computer.

Unlike Apple Computer, Paneltec is not a company name that — to the best of my knowledge at least — has ever received much attention from the world’s media. Located in a small industrial estate in Bedford, I wouldn’t have heard of it either, was it not for the fact the company director is none other than my cousin Derek Brown.

Up until a week ago, I hadn’t seen Derek for a year. But due to certain family circumstances, I found it necessary to locate his whereabouts. However, having misplaced his address and telephone number, the only option open to me was to drive steadily around the industrial park in the hope of finding him, which fortunately, I eventually did.

Inside the Paneltec facility, it was a hive of industry. People were engaged in the business of industriously creating all sorts of intricate enclosures, control panels and control cabinets. Frankly, I was rather overwhelmed to discover such activity so close to home, and especially astonished to discover that the products that the company was manufacturing there were, like Apple’s, also being shipped all over the world.

After a brief meeting with my cousin, I returned home where I reflected on the difference between the mighty Apple Computer and the somewhat more humble, yet no less important, Paneltec.

The one obvious differentiating factor is that while Apple Computer might be a highly effective design and publicity machine, much of its manufacturing is actually farmed out to companies in the Far East. And that’s most unlike the less-well-known Bedford-based Paneltec, which creates products on its own premises.

Admittedly, Paneltec’s products might not be as glamorous as Apple’s, but nevertheless there’s still an inordinate disparity between the media attention that each of these companies receives. And it’s not just Paneltec either, but thousands of other smaller companies just like them not just here in the UK, but all over the world.

Could it be then that we in the media are guilty of surreptitiously sending out a message that a smooth-talking individual, some innovative design and a massive Hollywood-style publicity push is more important than manufacturing? I think it is.

But there’s still time to redress the issue. All we have to do is stop giving Apple Computer quite so much press coverage and write some words about a few other companies instead.

David Wilson

The Wilson’s world blog also forms part of the Engineeringtalk, Electronicstalk and Manufacturingtalk newsletters. To subscribe, go here for Engineeringtalk, here for Electronicstalk and here for Manufacturingtalk