Apple's supply chain is as big a factor in its success as its shiny toys, industry watchers say. The tech giant spends huge amounts of money to lock up components and factory machinery long before anticipated demand, and offers limited customization choices to maintain a streamlined production channel. "Operations expertise is as big an asset for Apple as product innovation or marketing," says Mike Hawkes, former Hewlett-Packard supply chain chief. "They’ve taken operational excellence to a level never seen before."

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