The death of sapphire and the birth of ‘Phire’

“Last fall, after Apple introduced the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and they did not include the much rumored sapphire screen they had been working on with GT Advanced, I started looking into why this did not happen,” Tim Bajarin writes for Tech.pinions. “In a column I wrote in Time last fall, I explained there were major production issues related to sapphire and found out that, in the end, GT Advanced had serious problems producing sapphire screens and could not deliver. In that article, I stated Apple had never planned to have sapphire screens in the new iPhones but that apparently was not correct. My sources did not clarify a key point related to the original intent vs what took place by the beginning of 2013 that took sapphire completely out of the picture for the newest iPhones. Apple went into the deal with GT Advanced wanting to use sapphire screens but, by late 2013, they realized this just could not happen.”

“At their investors meeting earlier this year, Corning… talked about something new in the works that got a lot of attention on Wall Street and with the media,” Bajarin writes. “It is called ProjectPhire and is a new glass-based solution with damage resistance like Gorilla Glass and scratch performance approaching sapphire. It is in the design phase now but will be available for use in smartphones by late in the year.”

Read more in the full article – recommended – here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Jeff L.” for the heads up.]


  1. Sapphire is not dead, it is just significantly pricier than it could be if Apple/GTA manufacturing experiment would be successful.

    This is one of the reason why steel Apple Watch are not going to be just $50 pricier than aluminium one — the difference will be bigger to accommodate the price of sappire that comes with steel watches, and to limited the demand.

    The price itself may not warrant that significant difference, but manufacturing volumes are very limited, so the only way to balance demand and supply is to charge for steel Watches noticeably more than for aluminium ones that have regular hardened glass a-la Gorilla Glass 3/4 or its Japanese equivalent.

    1. We’d need a mineralogist to quote the formulas, but each material has a tensile strength, among other factors. My understanding about the sapphire problem is that beyond a certain diameter and thinness, the likelihood of the material cracking was unacceptable to Apple. It was not flexible enough to use for iPhone screens. Gorilla Glass is.

      I expect good old Corning, long the USA experts on glass materials, has cooked up an ‘alloy’ of materials that create a strength and flexibility that is the best of both previously tested materials. Good on Corning! 😀

  2. It was my understanding that GTA produced screens but they were simply not up to Apple’s standards and by contract GTA was not allowed to sell those screens that Apple declined to a 3rd party. Essentially product that could have been used just piled up with no where to go but disposal and contributed to the bankruptcy of GTA.

    1. What happened was that GTA was producing screen quality sapphire but the number of large sized boules (the name for the synthetically grown blobs of sapphire) that were being successfully cooled without cracking and therefore being suitable for cutting had to be above 85% to be economically viable. GTA was below 20% on producing viable boules. . . and often getting only 10-15% viable, cuttable boules. That raised the sapphire screen per costs by 5 to 10 times what their contract could safely deliver. That is bankruptcyville. They could not find out what was causing one boule to cool properly and what caused one to crack. They had what they called the boule graveyard of hundreds of cracked sapphire 250 pound boules behind their plant. If they could not deliver 85% or above, they could not deliver enough to make millions of iPhone screens. QED. Failure.

      1. Ah.. I see.. Well, it’s still too bad they couldn’t sell the viable ones to a 3rd party since Apple did not want them so that it could have at least softened the loss..

        1. They belonged to Apple under the contract. Apple paid for the equipment. . . and Apple owned the actual finished boules that were good. But the contract would never go forward to production levels unless they could hit 85%. They couldn’t. They voided their guarantees.

        2. Seems Apple didn’t pay for the machinery and is unclear whether they actually bought any of the viable product, rather the contract had them loaning $578mil to GT Advanced to build, install and operate the machines (ownership is GTA) in a factory building Apple owned and was responsible for outfitting for $500mil, total $1bil+ investment. I agree that Apple had first rights to the viable sapphire though it is unclear if they currently have ownership of it. Here’s a WSJ article that seems to have the most detail on the matter.

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