Apple shipped just 8 new MacBook Pros to Britain

Company favours American stores

Apple's CEO Tim Cook has a reputation as a logistical genius.

Recent reports, for instance, have highlighted the fact that the company, of which he was Chief Operating Officer before he took over from the late Steve Jobs in August last year, turns over its inventory every five days. The only company in the report which does it faster is McDonalds – which is somewhat less able than Apple to keep products on the shelves. The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal comments:

A typical company in manufacturing might do 8 inventory turns [a year]. Samsung does 17. Dell, which practically invented hardcore electronics supply chain management, does 36. Apple is doing 74!

Which means that the fact that the company's flagship new laptop isn't stocked in any of its British stores, and has a month-long lead time for online orders from the UK, represents one or more of the following things:

  • A minor snarl in the supply chain for the company's most important product launch this year.
  • An unexpectedly high level of demand for a computer which starts at £1800.
  • A shafting of British customers to ensure American stores stay supplied.

The fact that the American online store is showing the same delay as the British suggests that it may be more the first two points; while the fact that Apple experienced the same problems with the launch of the new iPad suggests that even Tim Cook can't run a company that keeps everything in stock throughout massive demand for new products.

But it certainly is true that the company has focused on the US to a certain extent. The Regent Street Apple store in London was the only one in Britain to be shipped any of the new MacBook Pros at all. It only received eight, which were supposed to be used as display units but were accidentally sold to members of the public. Someone got in a lot of trouble for that. You can run the best logistics operations in the world, but cock-ups still happen.

Apple's CEO Tim Cook introduces the new laptop. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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