The cost of cutting-edge.
We live in an economy of conspicuous consumption, that's the premise the whole tech industry runs off of. You need a new phone every two years, if not every year. In 2009 you needed a netbook. In 2011, you need a tablet. Scientists and engineers push the envelope every day so we'll never again know the pain of stagnation. But there's a human cost to all this rapid progress, and it is a cost born most heavily by workers over in China.
Wintek Corp supplies the touchscreen displays for many of Apple's devices. If you're using an iPhone or an iPad right now, there's a good chance the panels came from Wintek's factory in Suzhou, China. If it did, your device may have helped to poison one of 137 workers. The chemical N-hexane, used to clean the panels, is believed to have caused many illnesses among the production line.
56 of those workers are still employed by Wintek. Most of the employees either recovered, or took the payout for being unable to continue working. A few, however, are suing for further damages. They put together a letter for Steve Jobs. It isn't known if the Apple CEO received the letter, but Apple has responded to the situation.
The poisoning is "a core violation" of worker safety and Wintek has been ordered to cease use of N-hexane in their production lines.
The re-jiggering caused by this issue may be partially responsible the iPad 2 production problems tipped by Digitimes. Apparently, yields for the new touch panels are quite low. Q1 production will drop from 400,000 to 600,000 units to a "mere" 300,000-400,000 units. Since Apple has multiple back-ups for panel supply, this is not anticipated to cause significant delays for iPad 2 shipments.
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That said, we're in a very different tablet situation than we were last year. Apple's back-ups are LG Display, Samsung and Chimei Innolux. Two of those companies have their own tablets due out in the immediate future. They are unlikely to prioritize the iPad 2 over their own offerings, if it comes to a touch panel crunch.