Apple’s next iPhone screen could be made of Sapphire

“Man-made sapphire could replace Gorilla Glass as the material of choice for scratch-and-crack-resistant mobile phone screens in the near future, according to a recent speculative piece from MIT Technology Review,” Tim Worstall reports for The Register.

“Having had a little wander around the relevant places and a few chats with people who would know, I’d say that it’s actually not just possible but highly likely,” Worstall reports. “I’ve been kibbitzing with the various sapphire and silicon guys I meet while huntin’ slags and the general view is that, yes, the silicon model is exactly the way the industry will develop. It isn’t exactly the same, of course, but it’s close enough that we can use it as an analogy.”

“As the sapphire is made in ever fatter ingots, the price per kg will come down. Currently, at least with the pieces I’ve seen, it’s about the shape and size of the sort of candle you might put on a dinner table. In the coming years we all expect it to get wider and wider, as silicon has done, fattening to the girth of a fat candle carried in the church parade all the way up to the ‘elephant’s tampon girth’ of current silicon ingots. We would also expect production costs to come down as they have with silicon: perhaps not a 10x reduction, but no one can see why a 3x or 4x wouldn’t be achievable,” Worstall reports, “And at $10 and under for a screen, most think that sapphire would be competitive with Gorilla Glass at its $3. After all, the sapphire is some three times stronger, three times less likely to crack if dropped, and three times harder to scratch.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Coincidentally, “Elephant’s Tampon” is the codename for Windows 9.

iPhone 6. Sapphire and Liquidmetal. Coming Autumn 2013. (Hey, we can dream, right?)

47 Comments

    1. Sapphire is much harder than even Gorilla glass, but the price is issue. Also, it weighs more than 1.5 times more than glass.

      Liquidmetal is too pricy, and Apple started to unroll aluminium case production for iPhones only last year. This is obvious confirmation that they do not see LM to be price competitive.

      1. That said, I would love to have both sapphire glass and LM in iPhone.

        LM unibody case, for example, would result 40% weight saving comparing to aluminium — if you make those unibody of equal strength.

        Artificial sapphire glass, despite being pricey, is more probable to come, but still unlikely. It was never produced in huge scale volumes. The rumour probably comes just from the fact that Apple contracted a Russian giant sapphire manufacturer to provide iPhone 5 with tiny sapphire glass to protect the camera.

          1. Forget any of that high-tech stuff. Wall Street won’t allow it. Wall Street doesn’t see any point in a company building products that last for consumers. All Wall Street wants is high profit margins and they’re basically blackmailing companies into building plastic pieces of crap to cut costs. I really hate that about Wall Street. They’re basically trying to destroy the manufacturing industry and holding up the use of more exotic materials. Make it worthwhile for companies to take big leaps with new materials. Give those companies some added value for taking those risks. Penalizing them for attempting to make advances is just plain short-sighted and stupid.

      1. Hardness and strength are relative, of course. The former is much more important than the latter, of course (Steven Jobs sought for hardened glass only because of scratches; plastics, even though it is weaker per se, is relatively bendable so it survives falls better than glass).

  1. well, at 10 $ a screen (that makes it 3 x more expensive) compared to 3 $ present price.

    “Sapphire is three times stronger, three times less likely to crack if dropped, and three times harder to scratch.”

    So, if three times better its well worth it.

      1. lets hope one day soon we can order iPhone in screen size too:

        iPhone: Large/Medium/Small, 32/64/128Gb, Black/White
        iPad: Large/Medium/Small, 32/64/128Gb, Black/White

        again the difference between iPad and iPhone is clear, a phone offers true cellular voice and data from the carrier of choice – where iPad has no telephone services and would only offer wifi now that iPhone comes in different sizes.

  2. Saphire is amazingly strong stuff. The bullet-resistant glazing on the presidential limo is, I understand, a multi-layer sandwich with sapphire on the outermost-layer to disrupt even armor-piercing rounds, and next, polycarbonate to absorb the energy and stop the round.

    But I seriously doubt there will be a sapphire window on an iPhone. A commercial circular window measuring 25 mm (one inch) in diameter and 1 mm thick retails for $50. Why would Apple lose $7 on each and every iPhone to make harder windows to solve a scratching issue that most people don’t have a problem with?

    As for flat-out breakage, that’s rarely from dropping an iPhone face down where it lands on a protuberance that punches and breaks the glass. Much more common is dropping the iPhone where it lands at one of a near-infinite number of angles on an edge or corner and that deflects the frame sufficiently far into the edge of the screen to break it. Yeah, sapphire would help with that. But a simpler and far, far solution is either a stiffer frame, or a bit more gap between the frame and glass, or a combination of the two.

        1. I do agree that there seems not to be much of an issue.

          While a seven dollar increase seems at first a possible lose to Apple. Who is to say the iPhone wouldn’t increase seven bucks. For material that places a much higher value and prestige on a superior device is yet another way to differentiate the iPhone from the competition. Apple notions the competition makes cheap plastic crap. Yet the competition also uses gorilla glass.

          Furthermore, the cost of a case and clear protective shells for the iPhone – far out price seven bucks. Lets say at an additional cost of 30 to 40 bucks on top of your phone.

          Now compare Sapphire glass again; I for one would rather pay the seven bucks and again have the more superior product.

    1. Right, the numbers suggest this will not be on an iPhone right now. However, the price will inevitably drop as the process improves. Apple doesn’t have to wait for the numbers to be perfect, since they will take initial hits on margin that will improve over time.

  3. There are already a lot of high-end (and even not-so-high-end) watches in the 44mm+ size range with sapphire crystals.

    They’re pretty much indestructible (I don’t know what it would take to shatter a sapphire, but you literally can’t scratch them without trying).

    If any phone maker would go there, it would be Apple.

    1. A diamond can scratch sapphire.

      So, you buy her a new sapphire iPhone and say diamonds are out of the question dear because they will scratch your new phone.

      Thank me later.

        1. Actually, sheet diamond used on industrial oil and gas drill bits is probably more advanced than the sapphire project.

          Man made sheet diamond is not really that expensive.

    2. Rado watches have used sapphire crystals for 30 years. They are indeed scratch proof. However, if one is dropped on a concrete or tile floor then the crystal will shatter. I know, it happened to me once. Otherwise they are awesomely durable.

    1. You know something, I rather suspect they will say nothing of the sort but, but more importantly either way no one will remember your comment by the time we know that, which is why it is so easy to make such moronic statements it never has to be tested.

  4. Well, then, I think we may just have figured out how Apple can differentiate between premium and lower-end iPhones (if they actually make a lower-cost model). Up the price on the premium iPhone to maintain or grow the margin, and market the hell out of the exclusive use of Sapphire and Liquidmetal on the premium model, and they could have a winner.

    1. Excellent point! Apple desperately needs a high-end iPhone to help reignite the ‘cool factor’ of owning an iPhone. The current iPhone has become ubiquitous with all other smartphones and if Apple does produce a high-end version of the iPhone, the mystique and wow factor will return to all their products through a ‘halo’ effect. Not to mention that early adopters of the high end iPhone will help pave the way for mass production and lowering the cost for regular iPhone users down the road. it’s a win-win scenario for everyone!!!

  5. For a paper published in “MIT Technology Review” I am very surprised to se “Elephant Tampon Size” used as a unit of measure. Seriously, pretty sophomoric.

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