Apple may Shift to Sapphire Crystal Glass for Future iDevices
Apple's premier glass supplier is Corning and Apple's iPhone has been using Gorilla Glass from day one. On page 472 of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, we read: "We produced a glass that had never been made," stated Corning's CEO Wendell Weeks. This is what Steve wanted for the iPhone and so it's highly unlikely that they'd easily switch suppliers. Perhaps in the not too distant future Corning could consider manufacturing a new type of glass that seems to be the next big thing in glass. This next generation of glass is made from sapphire crystal.
At the moment manufactured Sapphire is used as transparent armor on military vehicles but could shift to being used for smartphone cover glass with enough volume – which is why this may be of interest to Apple.
The benefits would mean crack-proof glass even when you drop it and scratch-free if your iPhone is in your pocket with keys or it falls on concrete. The cost is about ten times what Gorilla Glass costs and with increased production it might fall to about six or seven times. Today a Gorilla Glass cover for the iPhone runs about $3, so a leap to $20 could be a cost Apple isn't ready to absorb.
Yet Apple's iDevices are known for their precision designs and best-of-class materials, so I wouldn't write if off too quickly. If it saves on iPhone returns due to smashed glass, the added cost would be negligible.
Secondly, Apple is already familiar with sapphire glass because it's used to cover and protect the camera lens in all of Apple's iDevices.
According to a new report by MIT Technology Review, there are a number of manufacturers in the US that are experimenting at making sapphire sheets thinner than a human hair which is much thinner than today's Gorilla Glass. That would in turn lighten the iPhone which Apple strives for continually while translating into savings in shipping costs. A little here a little there and it begins to make sense for Apple to start experimenting with this glass. Corning's competitors are beginning to talk about manufacturing sapphire glass for between $6 to $9 per smartphone cover versus $20 to $30 that it sells for today. So it's in Corning's interest to be able to offer Apple a sapphire product or an equivalent.
Several other companies with proprietary technologies are also lowering the cost of sapphire, including Rubicon Technologies in the United States, Monocrystal in Russia, and Sapphire Technology in South Korea.
This year we could see the iPhone adopt Corning's next generation Gorilla Glass that is about twice as resistant to scratches. Whether Apple can convince Corning to develop a sapphire glass cover for future iDevices is unknown at this time. But the switch to sapphire crystal glass is likely something we'll see in the coming years – unless Corning can reinvent their Gorilla Glass to compete with Sapphire Crystal. Only time will tell how this all plays out.
Apple Sapphire News Update November 11, 2013: Why Apple Bought $578M Worth Of Sapphire In Advance (Nov. 8, 2013 - TechCrunch)
Sand (silica sand) ranges between 6 and 7. And hardened steel is 7-8. Which can both scratch your iPhone when pressure applied. It always depends on what material you carry your iPhone with.
I hope that Apple will make iPhone with Liquid Metal and Sapphire Glass in the future. That would be a really luxury looking phone.
Posted by: Geo | March 21, 2013 at 05:49 PM
Sadly, even the latest (currently used) Gorilla Glass isn't impervious to scratches or cracks/breakage. The extra 2 steps up on the Mohs scale would make a significant difference.
Molly Woods from CNet carried her new iPhone 5 in her purse for a week with no protection on it. The screen had lots of visible scratches.
Posted by: Red | March 21, 2013 at 07:33 AM
Gorilla's Glass hardness by Mohs scale (where diamond is hardest and has a value 10) reported is 7. Sapphire (Corundum) glass is 9. To put this in to perceptive:
Finger nail is 2.5, Gorilla can take it any time of the day. Your hardest part of the body - tooth enamel is 5. Yes, you can give your iPhone to the dog without a worry.
Posted by: Geo | March 20, 2013 at 07:22 PM