Andreessen: America’s consumer electronics comeback

July 16, 2012, 10:07 PM UTC

FORTUNE — Could America be on the verge of a consumer electronics renaissance?

That’s the “radical” belief of venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, who was interviewed today by Fortune managing editor Andy Serwer at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech event in Aspen.

His basic argument is that almost all smartphone software is developed in the U.S., and that the product profits are realized domestically.

“I think the fact that software is becoming so important is leading to a hardware renaissance,” Andreessen explained. “Today you have the iPhone, which is assembled in China, but the profits come back to the U.S.”

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He added that his venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, has invested in U.S. hardware companies like Lytro (cameras) and Jawbone (speakers).

When asked if U.S. consumer electronics profits would be accompanied by manufacturing jobs, Andreessen said he was unsure. On the one hand, better software could lead to fewer components, thus making it more cost effective to assemble locally. He also argued that more complex assembly might also occur in the U.S., so that the designers can be close by if something goes wrong.

On the other hand, Andreessen suggested that “manufacturing job,” in this context, is being overemphasized from an economic standpoint.

“What you have to look at from an economic standpoint is gross margin, and you’ll find that people who designed the majority of the IP are getting a majority of the profits,” he said. “These are not high-value jobs, and I think there are very few Americans who would want to work in a Chinese manufacturing plant.”

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