Regardless of whether you’re an Apple fanboy or a Google lover, the iPhone 6 is widely believed to introduce a new technology that will dramatically alter the smartphone market once again for consumers. Reports are surfacing on the Internet claiming that Apple’s next flagship smartphone, to be introduced later this year, will debut with a sapphire glass, rather than a strengthened glass, display. This technology could alter not just Apple’s product line, but over time could spread to competing Android phones as well.
When Apple and late co-founder Steve Jobs launched the original iPhone in 2007 on AT&T’s network, the smartphone brought a huge mobile computing revolution by making technology accessible and understandable–strengthened glass display, capacitive touch technology, and a simple UI were all new to the market at a time when rivals were focused on how to make their smartphones feel and act like a PC (we’re looking at you, Windows Mobile) as well as clunky, hard to press plastic resistive touchscreens. Now, Apple will continue that revolution, and one that could be set to debut on the iPhone 6, with a new sapphire glass touchscreen.
Though Apple does not credit Corning, the maker of the Gorilla Glass brand of strengthened glass, for the panels on the iPhone’s display currently, it’s been understood that Gorilla Glass is instrumental in Apple’s design. Since then, rivals like Samsung, Motorola, HTC, LG, and others have turned to Corning and Corning’s competitors to bring reinforced glass to smartphones to protect the displays of these fragile pocket-friendly devices. Though Apple wasn’t behind the Gorilla Glass technology, Apple’s use of the technology helped to popularize it and the smartphone market would have been completely different today had the iPhone not come to the market. Rather than a touch of the screen with the tip of your fingers, you may still find yourself poking at the display with a fine-point stylus.
Now, with Apple partnering with GT Advanced Technologies to build a sapphire glass manufacturing facility in the U.S. in Arizona, we can likely expect sapphire glass to be instrumentally used in future iPhone products. The hard to scratch and break substance is already used to protect the camera on the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s camera lens and also on the latter device’s TouchID housing to protect the integrity of the fingerprint scanner.
Now, we are seeing what sapphire glass may be capable of. A video re-posted on 9to5 Mac from Aero-Gear shows that a thin sapphire glass screen protector could help the iPhone escape death by concrete scratching. Take a look at the video below:
Another thing that be instrumental in Apple’s reliance on sapphire glass is that the company is that Apple is exploring larger display sizes for future iPhone models to stay competitive with Android phablets. If that proves to be true, a larger glass panel would be less strong than one that Apple currently uses to protect its 4-inch display. Turning to sapphire glass would not only give Apple marketing claims, but also the strength to back up those claims.
Not only that, but tying itself to a manufacturing partner would allow Apple some lead time before competitors can catch up. If Apple suddenly releases an iPhone 6 with sapphire glass, it may take a year or two before HTC and Samsung could release competing smartphones with sapphire. And given the volumes that Samsung requires on its flagship smartphones, it would take time to ramp up production of its own supply of sapphire glass before Samsung could use it in a Galaxy phone. Volume is speculated to be one of the reasons why optical image stabilization has been noticeably absent from Samsung’s devices to date, though it has appeared on the LG G2 and HTC One.
For consumers, the small switch to sapphire glass may not be significant, but Apple’s change could slowly move the smartphone landscape to employing sapphire glass on future designs. This could lead to phones where the glass will be less prone to cracking or shattering if you drop it onto a hard surface, and consumers may soon no longer have to worry about applying and spending copious amounts of money on screen protectors to keep their screens scratch-free.
These are some of the promises made by Corning with Gorilla Glass, but to date with Gorilla Glass the results so far are more mixed depending on the brand of phone in my personal testing. Gorilla Glass on Apple’s iPhone, HTC’s devices, and Motorola’s Droid series were more prone to scratching than the same brand of glass on Sasmung’s Galaxy phones and LG’s devices in my testing of those smartphones here at GottaBeMobile. Hopefully, sapphire glass will yield a more consistent and overall better level of protection.
It would also help to democratize this luxury technology, which was once reserved for high-end watches and the displays used on Vertu smartphones, devices that costs upwards of $5,000-$10,000.
The strength of sapphire could also allow Apple and other technology makers to continue to innovate. Apple, for example, is rumored to use the strength provided by sapphire glass to house solar panels just below the surface of the glass to continue to power the iPhone, helping to keep the battery topped off during the day.