What’s the deal with Apple’s new Arizona sapphire plant?

“What’s Apple up to with that sapphire factory it’s building in Mesa, AZ?” Philip Elmer-DeWitt wonders for Fortune. “That’s one of the questions Bernstein’s Toni Sacconaghi (who covers Apple) and Alberto Moel (who covers Corning) set out to answer in a two-part report to clients issued Wednesday.”

“Their reports represent the deepest dive I’ve seen yet into sapphire, its unique properties (Moel calls it a ‘wonder material’), its industrial uses, and what promise it might hold for Apple,” P.E.D. reports. “The two analysts don’t have a definitive answer for that last part, except to demolish the theory that sapphire crystal will replace Corning’s (GLW) Gorilla Glass screen on the iPhone anytime soon, except perhaps as a laminate. (Why would Apple, which already owns the high-end smartphone market, replace a $3 screen with a $15 crystal that would probably shatter even more easily?)”

“Which makes their analysis of the deal even more interesting. Basically, Apple has paid $113 million for an empty factory and loaned GT $578 million to purchase, install and operate the world’s largest sapphire crystal-growing plant,” P.E.D. reports. “GT gets a huge bump in its income and a lot of press and prestige, but it’s assuming most of the risk. Apple is paying for the capacity, but it hasn’t promised to buy all — or even any — of the sapphire GT makes.”

Read more in the full article here.

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  1. Why are these guys so stupid???

    Apple believes in creating the greatest products out there, not scr@wing the customer to save a few bucks.

    Plus when you get into mass production, the cost comes down.

    Plus plus what a differentiator a sapphire screen makes. Apple just bought up to 3 years is sapphire production from another company.

    Apple will OWN sapphire use in the world for at least 4 years.

    The WOW starts soon.

    1. PED is absolutely not stupid. But I am puzzled why he suggests that a sapphire screen would be more prone to shattering since patentlyapple has numerous reports of the way Apple is working with sapphire and other materials (incl. liquid metal) to make scratch proof and shatterproof screens – both flat and curved.
      For sure Apple is years ahead of the competition in this area. It’s just a case of whether enough of the buying public cares.

    2. What are they talking about? Gorilla glass has a MOHs hardness rating of around 6 but sapphire is a MOHs 9. The MOHs scale is not a linear scale but relative. Sapphire is far harder than Gorilla Glass. But what is more important than hardness is its elasticity. . . Or its ability to resist impact which is measured by Young’s Modulous. Gorilla Glass 3 has a Young’s Modulus of 71.5 GigaPascals (GPa), about the same as Aluminum but more frangibility. Sapphire has a Young’s Modulus of between 340 GPa and 400 GPa. It’s frangability is far tougher than any glass. . . why do you think Sapphire is used for watch crystals???? The idea that Sapphire screens would be more easily shattered than Gorilla Glass sounds like disimformative FUD being spread by a certain Korean cellphone/tablet maker that advertises its phones feature Gorilla Glass 3, and imply no one else’s do, even though Apple iPhones have featured Gorilla Glass from the first model on.

    3. The Vickers absolute Hardness Scale puts Gorilla Glass 3 at around 622-701VH but Sapphire is at 2100-2300VH compared to 6 and 9 on the MOHs scale which looks a lot closer together in hardness. Another comparison is the Shear Modulus which is an indicator of frangibility. . . sapphire 148 GPa, Gorilla Glass 3: 30.2 GPa.

      Again, how can they say with a straight face that Glass is stonger and better than Sapphire?

  2. I need someone to show me proof that Sapphire is more brittle then gorilla glass. I have yet to see anything other then rumors. Does someone have this info they can share?

    Just for the record, I hate writers who think they know better then Apple how to produce products. If they did, they’d be making real products and not scribbling content for a living.

    1. “I need someone to show me proof that Sapphire is more brittle then gorilla glass.”

      Look up modulus of elasticity and IZOD impact test results for both materials.

  3. It isn’t. It’s second only to diamond in strength. Corning claims gorilla glass is more durable but independent testing has found sapphire to be 3x stronger than gorilla glass..

  4. I would love to see the body and screen (cover) of the “iWatch” made entirely, or to a large extent, from sapphire; unibody, it could be milled/finished with diamond tools. That would be something. The device would be a real (ahem) gem. No copycats possible.

    One big advantage of Apple doing things in the USA is that they can maintain secrecy a lot better.

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