The iPhone 6 release later this year will bring a larger screen with a Sapphire display cover according to many credible rumors and it looks like Apple’s demand for Sapphire could leave competitors looking for alternate options.
Apple already uses Sapphire for the lens and home button on the iPhone 5s, and in late 2013 invested half a billion dollars in a company that can help deliver Sapphire screens for Apple devices like the rumored iPhone 6, iWatch and maybe even an iPod 6th generation.
During the last several months Apple pushed to get the Sapphire plant up and running to deliver a critical sub-component for a product to come out in the near future. Apple reportedly has enough Sapphire on hand or will have available to deliver 100 to 200 million iPhones.
Suffice to say that is a lot of Sapphire, and this move by Apple may be about more than simply outfitting an iPhone 6 with a larger Sapphire display. By investing in the Sapphire facility and locking GT Advanced Technologies into an exclusive agreement for consumer electronics, Apple cornered a large part of the Sapphire market.
This is already evident thanks to comments made by Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth in a conference call this week. Canonical originally planned to release an Ubuntu smartphone with a 4.5-inch Sapphire covered display, but those plans fell through. While discussing the future of an Ubuntu phone, Shuttleworth revealed, “Apple just snapped up the entire 3-year supply of the same sapphire display we wanted for the Edge,” as reported by GigaOM.
If that is a three-year supply for the Ubuntu phone it may only equate to the supply Apple needs for an iPhone 6 release weekend or first month of sales, but it is still significant.
This is not the first time Apple scooped up a technology to keep competitors from using it in the marketplace. Apple locked down Liquidmetal previously, though it is still not using it in the iPhone for a significant part.
Ubuntu is a relatively small competitor to Apple, but if 9to5Mac’s report of supplies for 100-200 million iPhone screens is correct it could prevent Samsung or HTC from sourcing enough Sapphire to match this feature.
A 2011 report in CNNMoney Apple’s cash and size allow the company to beat out smaller competitors for a limited supply of critical components. Given the growth of Apple’s cash and continued marketshare it is unlikely that this changed significantly in the past two years.
Rumors currently suggest Apple is planning two iPhone 6 models with larger screens. Multiple rumors suggest an iPhone 6 with a 4.7-inch display is likely and others also point to a 5.5-inch iPhone 6 or a 5.6-inch iPhone 6. A recent report suggested the larger model would be the only one with Sapphire, but it is not clear if that is credible.
In addition to a larger display Apple is likely to introduce a new design for the iPhone 6 after using the same overall look for the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5. Apple is reportedly working on an Apple A8 processor for this new phone and an improved camera of some type.
The iPhone 6 release date is not concrete at this early stage. Some rumors claim Apple is planning an iPhone 6 release for summer close to WWDC when we expect to see iOS 8 for the first time. Others suggest a fall iPhone 6 release that lines up with the previous several iPhone releases and would make more sense for an iPhone 6 with Sapphire.