Your next iPhone screen may be made of Sapphire, not Gorilla Glass

“Manufactured sapphire—a material that’s used as transparent armor on military vehicles—could become cheap enough to replace the glass display covers on mobile phones,” Kevin Bullis reports for MIT Technology Review. “That could mean smartphone screens that don’t crack when you drop them and can’t be scratched with keys, or even by a concrete sidewalk.”

“Sapphire, a crystalline form of aluminum oxide, probably won’t ever be as cheap as Gorilla Glass, the durable material from Corning that’s used to make screens on iPhones and other smartphones,” Bullis reports. “A Gorilla Glass display costs less than $3, while a sapphire display would cost about $30. But that could fall below $20 in a couple of years thanks to increased competition and improving technology, says Eric Virey, an analyst for the market research firm Yole Développement. And since sapphire performs better than glass, that price could make it cheap enough to compete, he says.”

Bullis reports, “Sapphire is harder than any other natural material except diamond; by some measures, it’s three times stronger than Gorilla Glass, and it is also about three times more scratch resistant. That’s why Apple uses it now to protect the camera on its iPhone 5. Virey says that all major mobile-phone makers are considering using sapphire to replace glass. ‘I’m convinced that some will start testing the water and release some high-end smartphones using sapphire in 2013,’ he says.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: We’ll take a Sapphire and Liquidmetal iPhone, post haste, please!

25 Comments

  1. Fantasy land.

    Manufactured Sapphire will indeed come down in price with increased usage, BUT, will it come down 90%?

    The marginal benefits of Sapphire do not justify a reduction in margins that such technology would force on manufacturers, and they won’t be enough to warrant higher retail prices.

    Even then, production capacities would be insufficient, and the benefits would not justify construction costs.

    1. I’m not so certain. It’s one thing to compare a $3 cost to a $30 cost but that’s just materials cost. When you start looking at the complete picture, Apple could decide that there is a much narrower delta. Stockpiling replacement glass has a cost. Designing the phone such that the glass can be replaced has a cost. Look at what Apple did with batteries when they saw the spreadsheet indicate that non-user-replaceable batteries meant better things than did replaceable ones.

      1. Possibly. I am not convinced that the production issues will be easy to solve or cheap. Having worked in a glass factory, you can make the stuff faster than you can imagine. The scariest place that I have ever seen.

    1. There were news that Apple contracted a huge Russian company that one of the biggest sapphire manufacturers in the world. For now it maybe only for iPhone 5 camera cover, but with Apple’s gigantic purchase volumes they may indeed start to order sapphire cover glass. Lets see.

  2. A jump from $3 to $30 in material cost is noting to sneeze at, but it would be well worth it.
    Perhaps making it an option for $50 extra would be a way to sell it.

  3. My old iPhone 4S didn’t seem to have micro scratchy lines that I get on iPhone 5 from rubbing off oils with my cotton shirttail. Anyone else experience this?

  4. Sapphire crystal may be more damage resistant than Gorilla Glass, but let nobody be under any illusions that its impervious to damage. I have a TAG Heuer Series 1000 watch, about 25 years old, with a sapphire crystal, and it has a number of significant, and noticeable scratches across it, and I’ve no idea how they happened; just knocked against other hard surfaces, I guess, but it still scratches, and it can break.

    1. Maybe in 25 years the manufacturing process has improved the scratch-resistance?

      I guess if an iWatch appears with sapphire crystal as a feature you won’t be moved? 🙂

    2. My watch faces with sapphire crystal NEVER mark, despite leading tough lives, often scraping against brick and concrete and other very hard surfaces. However, the stainless steel cases and bands get roughed up pretty badly even though they aren’t as exposed as the glass.

  5. I wonder which makes more sense: buy an iPhone with really tough glass or pay $30 for an ugly case and a bunch of ‘screen protectors’ that bubble and peal off?

    Oh right, everyone is still stuck in 2001 and the scratch prone iPod plastic screen concept and will want to have both perfect glass and ugly cases and screen ‘protectors’ that are scratch prone.

    1. Actually, I noticed at Macworld this year that several companies are offering screen protectors made of solid sheets of glass rather than flexible films. Really interesting.

  6. Sapphire crystal has been around and used on watches for decades. Somehow you guys will end up thinking Apple invented Sapphire Crystal displays.

    “But they were the first to use it on a smartphone!”

    God help us.

  7. Is price point so important on an iPhone, especially given the benefits of Sapphire? I’m strictly an end-user and not an analyst or in the industry. I work in harsh environments and I’m tired of iPhones and IPads that aren’t durable, waterproof, and have glass that cracks quite easily. FOr me, “Gorilla ” is not really descriptive, just a marketing misnomer. Perhaps part of the profit margin formula is the desire for customers to pay premiums for replacement devices!

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