Photo: Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, 2011.
The conventional focus of product development is the improvement of its commercial and competitive attributes such as price, quality, features and performance. This process is common for electronic goods as each new generation of a product (e.g. computers, phones, televisions) is quantitatively and qualitatively better. For instance, the second generation of the iPad had the same display surface (246 mm diagonal) than the first generation, but was 16% lighter (600 grams versus 712 grams), 33% thinner (8.8 mm versus 13.4 mm), was more performing (CPU and graphic display speed) and had more features (e.g. front and back cameras).
Products are increasingly being considered from a supply chain perspective, namely their sourcing and distribution. The final assembly of a consumer good such as an iPad is performed in Shenzhen, China and then the boxed finished product is shipped by air transport to consumers around the world. This implies that air transportation costs are an important component of the total logistics costs of the product. In addition to the weight improvements of the second generation iPad, efforts have been made to reduce its packaging dimensions. The outcome was a box which was 10% lighter and had 18% less volume, both being important considerations for air shipping. Keeping air transportation costs constant, it was therefore possible to ship 11 iPad 2s with the same weight / volume price ratio than 10 iPad 1s.