Apple is putting half a billion dollars towards an agreement that may deliver an iPhone 6 or iWatch with a screen that doesn’t scratch, even if you rub a piece of concrete on it.
Sapphire glass is already used for the lens cover of the iPhone 5s and the Touch ID home button, but its more exciting application is in the form of a display that can handle an incredible amount of abuse.
Sapphire glass is roughly 2.5 times stronger than the glass currently used in smartphones, many of which use Gorilla Glass from Corning. Jeff Nestel-Patt, Marketing Director at GT Advanced Technologies calls the technology, “virtually scratch free,”
In the video below, watch as an iPhone retrofitted with a thin sheet of Sapphire glass is smashed and scratched with a piece of concrete. Gorilla Glass shown in this video shows scratches, but the Sapphire glass simple breaks pieces of the concrete apart with no damage to the actual screen.
Two issues are holding back an iPhone with a full Sapphire display, the cost of the material and full scale production. GT Advanced Technologies pegs the cost premium at three to four times that of chemically strengthened glass, but according to Nestel Patel’s statements at Mobile World Congress earlier this year, mass production will help bring the cost in check. He expects that this will be a standard feature on smartphones in the next few years.
While GT Advanced Technologies manufactures a variety of materials and Sapphire for multiple applications notes to investors and press releases clearly focus on a smartphone screen technology. Earlier this year Linda Reinhard, vice president of business development and product management at GTA Advanced Technologies described the company’s product,
“ASF-grown sapphire’s durability and resistance to scratching makes it ideally suited for a wide range of cover and touch screen applications from ruggedized phones, camera covers, point of sale devices and smartphone and touch screen devices. Other reinforced glass and cover screen technologies try to emulate what ASF-grown sapphire does naturally.”
In order to bring a Sapphire screen to the iPhone 6 or a future iPhone, GT Advanced Technologies may slice the Sapphire thinner than a human hair and layer it on another material. This very thin sheet would bring costs down and maintain the hardness which prevents scratches, possibly allowing Apple to use Sapphire as a screen on an iPhone 6. According to Technology Review, GT Advanced Technologies’ furnaces are upgradable to deliver better quantities and lower prices.
Apple and GT Advanced Technologies shared some details about the agreement in a press release issued earlier this week, which includes an exclusivity agreement, minimum capacity and earnings for GT in 2014. Apple also holds an exclusivity for Liquid Metal, as the company continues to lock down new materials for mobile technology applications.
Apple payed $578 million to GT Advanced Technologies which will allow GT to speed up, “the development of its next generation, large capacity ASF furnaces to deliver low cost, high volume manufacturing of sapphire material,” which should help keep costs of Sapphire screens down and move towards meeting yields needed for a flagship smartphone release. GT will reimburse Apple for this initial pre-payment starting in 2015.
Neither company is talking about an iPhone application or a specific device like an iPhone 6, but CNet is already calling Sapphire the future of the iPhone, calling out the iPhone 6 by name.
We expect an iPhone 6 release in 2014 with a new design, one that could lend itself to integration of new display technology like Sapphire. Multiple analysts expect an iPhone 6 in 2014 with a larger display and a new design, but concrete information is still elusive.