In a vast, fluorescent-lit facility, rows of workers in white, pink and some blue smocks stand at workstations and snap color-splashed backs onto mobile phones. Then the handsets move down the line, as an occasional cheer erupts from one of the work teams that meet daily quotas.
High-tech assembly lines such as these are typically seen in places like Burma or Beijing. But this facility -- a vast space larger than two Costco warehouses -- sits in an industrial zone in this Texas city. And the workers, mostly Americans, are making history: assembling the first smartphones produced on U.S. soil for Google.
The phones are Motorola's Moto X brand, Google's latest high-stakes gamble and a first step in returning high-tech assembly jobs to the USA, say executives at Google and Motorola, which the tech giant owns.
"Google is a place where we take bets," Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said recently to a gathering of workers and journalists at the facility. "This is a bet we're taking on America, on Texas, on this incredible workforce assembled here. ... We think this is a very, very safe bet."
He added: "This is the first of a series of steps that are going to change the perception of the United States as a manufacturing hub. ... It's historic. And it's changing America."
Whether the Moto X facility sparks a resurgence in U.S.-based manufacturing remains to be seen. But it's clear the smartphone facility is the latest high-stakes gamble in what could be called the tech industry's Teflon company.
Google, which turns 15 on Friday, has become ubiquitous in the lives of millions of Americans -- from e-mail and maps to searches, documents and self-driving cars. Google-owned YouTube has become the planet's biggest video site, and its Android is the dominant mobile phone operating system, with 80% market share. Meanwhile, the mysterious Google X wing of the company is crafting forward-looking projects like Google Glass (computer-equipped glasses) and Project Loon, in which balloons transmit broadband Internet to remote regions from 12 miles in the air. Calico, which focuses on the process of aging, is an independent company wholly owned by Google.
While much-older tech rivals Apple and Microsoft fend off questions about their innovation chops, Google is as inventive and financially stout as ever. Google topped $50 billion in sales for the first time last year. Bold bets on Android, Web browser Chrome and YouTube have paid off, and the company is breathing new life into popular services like Search, Gmail and Maps. (continued...)
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