"Across a lot of industries, companies are rethinking their strategy of where the manufacturing takes place," Sirkin said.
Carl Howe, an analyst with Yankee Group, likened Apple's move to Henry Ford's famous 1914 decision to double his workers' pay, helping to build a middle class that could afford to buy cars. But Cook's goal is probably more limited: to buy goodwill from U.S. consumers, Howe said.
"Say it's State of the Union 2014. President Obama wants to talk about manufacturing. Who is he going to point to in the audience? Tim Cook, the guy who brought manufacturing back from China. And that scene is going replay over and over," Howe said. "And yeah, it may be only (public relations), but it's a lot of high-value PR."
Cook said in his interview with NBC that companies like Apple chose to produce their products in places like China, not because of the lower costs associated with it, but because the manufacturing skills required just aren't present in the U.S. anymore.
He added that the consumer electronics world has never really had a big production presence in the U.S. As a result, it's really more about starting production in the U.S. than bringing it back, he said.
But for nearly three decades Apple made its computers in the U.S. It started outsourcing production in the mid-90s, first by selling some plants to contract manufacturers, then by hiring manufacturers overseas. It assembled iMacs in Elk Grove, Calif., until 2004.
Some Macs already say they're "Assembled in USA." That's because Apple has for years performed final assembly of some units in the U.S. Those machines are usually the product of special orders placed at its online store. The last step of production may consist of mounting hard drives, memory chips and graphics cards into computer cases that are manufactured elsewhere. With Cook's announcement Thursday, the company is set to go much further in the amount of work done in the U.S.
The news comes a day after Apple posted its worst stock drop in four years, erasing $35 billion in market capitalization. Apple's stock rose $8.45, or 1.6 percent, to close at $547.24 Thursday.