The iPhone 6 is expected to come with a “sapphire display,” but what is a sapphire display and why should you care about it in the first place?
If you haven’t seen the recent video demonstrating the robustness of the alleged glass panel of the iPhone 6, you should take a look at it (embedded down below), as it will no doubt result in your jaw dropping. The display bends without shattering, and stabbing it with a knife doesn’t even put a scratch on the glass panel.
Sapphire glass being used on smartphones is nothing new; the iPhone 5s’s camera lens and Touch ID home button are both made out of sapphire glass, but the iPhone 6 will mark the first time that a smartphone has ever had a full front panel display made out of sapphire glass. Of course, there’s no official word yet that the iPhone 6 will sport such a display, but Apple announced earlier this year that it plans to ramp up sapphire production by hiring 700 employees and open a factory in Arizona where iPhone 6 glass panels are planned to be manufactured in mass quantities.
If you think it’s some sort of magic, it kind of is, although not in the literal sense. Sapphire glass is way different than normal glass and the process to make it is quite unique. However, we first need to know what sapphire is and why Apple is targeting it as a new screen glass technology.
What Is Sapphire?
Sapphire is a precious gemstone that is a form of corundum, which is a hard mineral of aluminum oxide. It’s most known use is in jewelry, as its translucent beauty makes it a popular gemstone in necklaces, rings, earrings, etc.
The big reason why Apple is targeting sapphire for the iPhone 6 is because of its hardness. Aside from the diamond, sapphire is the hardest material known to man.
Sapphire gemstones can come in many different colors, but most have a blue tint. If you’re wondering how sapphire displays can be crystal clear without a blue hint, it comes down to the impurities in sapphire. The impurities are what gives sapphire gemstones their color tint, so removing these impurities makes sapphire clear and colorless.
How Are Sapphire Displays Made?
We’re not sure how Apple plans to make the iPhone 6’s sapphire displays, as its said that the company will use next-generation technology, but another company called GT Advanced Technologies (which Apple is partnering with for the iPhone 6), has demonstrated its current process on how to make sapphire glass displays.
Essentially, a mixture of sapphire, condensed corundum and leftover sapphire material from previous runs are put into a crucible where it’s all melted together at a balmy 3,800 degrees Fahrenheit.
It then goes through different cooling processes over the course of two weeks or so, during which the sapphire slowly crystallizes from the bottom to the top. What pops out at the end is a cylindrical slab of crystallized sapphire ready to be cut and formed into glass screens.
What Else Is Sapphire Used For?
Using sapphire for glass displays is nothing new. In fact, Asus did it back in 2007 with its LS221H LCD monitor, but it was really expensive and the company only made a limited run, since the cost of sapphire is pretty high. However, Apple’s use of sapphire will mark the first time that sapphire will be manufactured in such large quantities, where the company is expected to push out over 100 million iPhone 6 glass displays per year.
Others uses for sapphire include bullet-proof glass, optic heads of missiles, camera lenses, and watch faces of high-end watches like Rolexes.
How Does Sapphire Compare to Gorilla Glass
Sapphire glass displays are several times tougher than Gorilla Glass, although the company behind Gorilla Glass says that there are some disadvantages to sapphire glass displays. Most notably, it says that sapphire glass is “two to three times thicker than Gorilla Glass,” but that’s comparing it to most sapphire-protected watch faces, and looking at the video above, we know that an iPhone 6 sapphire display will be extremely thin.
Furthermore, sapphire is a lot more expensive than Gorilla Glass, which isn’t too surprising, but as far as whether or not that cost will fall to the consumer is a different question entirely. We know that Apple will keep the cost as low as possible when making its iPhone 6 sapphire displays, but it’s not yet known whether that will make the device more expensive to consumers.
In any case, while sapphire glass may not be anything new, Apple could be the first company to mass produce sapphire displays in such large quantities, which could start a revolution of other smartphone manufacturers getting in on the trend.
Of course, it’s early to tell what the future holds for sapphire glass displays, but the potential and promise is certainly apparent.