The high-profile Apple business with Asian contract manufacturer Pegatron Technology is facing scrutiny as the iPhone-maker is reportedly exercising its supply chain influence by asking Pegatron to drop new Ultrabook orders from Asustek or else it will lose orders for iOS devices. According to today’s article in Chinese-language Commercial Times, the similarities between Apple’s MacBook Air and Asustek’s Zenbook (released last year) instigated the Cupertino, Calif.-based firm to demand that Pegatron choose sides. As you know, the unique unibody metal enclosure of Apple’s notebooks is manufactured by Catcher Technology.

Pegatron currently assembles Asustek’s ultra-thin Zenbook family, but it will stop doing so by the end of March. As a result, Asustek will have to outsource the Zenbooks to either Compal Electronics or Wistron. Pegatron only recently landed iPhone orders and is hoping to assemble iPads, too. The Japanese blog Macotakara reported last month that Pegatron and Foxconn began assembly of iPad 3 for an early-March launch.

Even though the initial batch of Ultrabooks largely disappointed, upcoming models are looking to close the gap with lower prices and a unibody construction. Chinese-language Apple Daily reported in January (via DigiTimes) that Pegatron landed orders for at least five Ultrabooks by second-tier brands set to ship in April or May. One tiny interesting bit: Pegatron is an Asustek spin-off that happens to make Ultrabooks for other vendors, too.

Apple’s MacBook Air (left) and Asustek’s Zenbook (right). Image vie

Pegatron was founded as part of a January 2007 restructuring at Asustek that saw the company split into three distinct operational units: Asus, the Unihan Corporation, and Pegatron—tasked with OEM manufacturing of motherboards and components. Pegatron acquired Unihan from Asustek in January 2008, and it is a subsidiary that creates computers, peripherals, and audio-video products. Asus spun off Pegatron as an independent and separate entity in June 2010. Interesting enough, Pegatron’s design team was originally branched from the Asustek design team.

Today, it helps Pegatron’s clients with product development, including market research, conceptualization, product design, materials study, and production. Things get even more interesting knowing that Quanta Computer, the largest manufacturer of notebook computers in the world that happens to assemble Mac notebooks, reportedly bought a bunch of CNC machines through its affiliates to receive direct supply of unibody chassis for Ultrabooks. Will Apple also threaten Quanta to stop using the unibody manufacturing process?

Apple introduced a new way to build notebooks with the October 2008 launch of a redesigned MacBook lineup. The company’s lead designer Jonathan Ive joined then CEO Steve Jobs at Apple’s Cupertino campus to detail the unibody manufacturing process that puts a single block of aluminum through 13 milling phases to get it down to the final notebook part.

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