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Smartphone Manufacturers 'Lukewarm' on Sapphire, Call Material Impractical Due to Cost and Supply

Rumors have suggested that Apple is using the sapphire garnered from its partnership with GT Advanced to produce sapphire crystal displays for the iPhone 6, and if true, such a move would normally inspire competitors to produce their own devices with sapphire displays.

It does not appear, however, that other major smartphone manufacturers are ready to adopt sapphire as a display solution, due to the expense of the material and its quality compared to the more popular Gorilla Glass.

Engadget, in an in-depth piece on sapphire displays, contacted multiple representatives from major smartphone companies, who had researched sapphire as a possible material and largely decided against it. LG, for example, said the material was too expensive.
"The cost and supply aren't where we'd like them to be for sapphire to be practical just yet," said Ken Hong, Global Communications Director for LG. "Sapphire's durability and scratch-resistance are certainly attractive, but Gorilla Glass isn't going to be displaced anytime soon."
Sapphire is astronomically expensive compared to alternatives like Gorilla Glass, with a pane costing $30 compared to $3. Apple's partnership with GT Advanced has allowed Apple to help fund advanced sapphire production methods that significantly lower manufacturing costs, however, a feat that most manufacturers will be unable to match.

A look at how GT Advanced produces sapphire

Sapphire is an appealing option due to its extreme hardness and its scratch resistance. Rated at a nine on the Mohs hardness scale, few materials aside from diamond can scratch sapphire, but as one representative pointed out, sapphire is highly brittle. "The sapphire is too hard to withstand bending. It's easier to break during drop tests when the size of sapphire increases."

Gorilla Glass manufacturer Corning has heavily criticized sapphire for the same reason, noting that its own product can withstand 2.5 times more pressure. Corning has also pointed out that Gorilla Glass is cheaper, far lighter, and more environmentally friendly as it takes less energy to produce. Sapphire also transmits less light, making it both dimmer and less clear unless specially treated.

Strength test conducted by Corning, showing sapphire shattering at 161 pounds while Gorilla Glass survives

Yet another representative suggested that sapphire simply doesn't make sense except from a marketing standpoint, which would certainly work for Apple as a way to distinguish itself as a more luxury smartphone option. Apple has always stood out from other manufacturers with its insistence on quality over price, setting it apart as a premium brand.

Though rumors have indicated Apple is planning to use sapphire displays in its smartphones, it remains unclear if the iPhone 6 will indeed feature a sapphire screen. It is possible the company's sapphire is reserved for a different project, the iWatch, and it is also possible, based on circulating rumors, that only the larger 5.5-inch iPhone 6 will be equipped with a sapphire display.

Either way, it's likely we will get our first glimpse of an Apple product that utilizes sapphire crystal later this year and as Engadget points out, it is likely that manufacturers will take advantage of sapphire for products like smart watches, later transitioning to larger products as supply techniques and production improve.

Top Rated Comments

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34 months ago
This is why Apple is and will always be ahead.
Rating: 48 Votes
34 months ago
Just my 2 pennies: But I am far more likely to drop the phone, than put 161lbs on it.

I think (for me at least) it comes down to which performs better for accidental drops and scratch resistance. Which is a bit of catch 22, as the Gorilla Glass is better for drops, and sapphire is better for scratches :/
Rating: 34 Votes
34 months ago
How does the "sapphire is brittle" comments fit with that ultra-bendy screen? Either that isn't sapphire, or Apple found a way to make it flexible and clear?
Rating: 32 Votes
34 months ago
AKA Apple has a stranglehold on the competition . They want to use sapphire, but they'll act like they don't .
Rating: 27 Votes
34 months ago
I have no dog in this fight but I'd have a hard time blindly believing the results Corning has with GG vs Sapphire, as they have a vested interest in the results.
Rating: 27 Votes
34 months ago
Samsung today: "Meh, sapphire is too expensive and isn't practical."

Samsung next year: "Here it is! The Galaxy S6 with "ultra" sapphire!! Ours is better!"
Rating: 24 Votes
34 months ago

This is why Apple is and will always be ahead.

Because they use technologies that are more expensive for marketing, sales and "image" rather than what is actually best for the consumer and the device?

Unless GT AT and Apple have some secret manufacturing technique they're not sharing with anyone else in the world, the concerns that people are raising against sapphire screen for the iphone aren't unjust.
Rating: 22 Votes
34 months ago
Breaking news: Manufacturers of less expensive phones want their products to remain less expensive.

best advantage of sapphire glass is scratch resistance.

Apple should continue to manufacture high quality phones with superior materials.
Rating: 15 Votes
34 months ago

Yeah... that didn't make much sense. They call it "brittle" and yet, in the comparison, it's only a 20% difference in durability. 161 pounds of bendy-ness doesn't seem particularly "brittle" to me. The comparison was also done on a hypothetical screen in which they have no clue how it will be manufactured/implemented. We don't even know if the next iPhone will even have sapphire displays.

Just sounds like sour grapes to me, which... from previous observation... does nothing to Apple.

It's a trick in Marketing.. You see, that was a raw piece of Sapphire in that Gorilla Glass test and guess what.. If you took a raw piece of glass, you'd get even worse results than Sapphire.. :rolleyes:

Gorilla Glass is good because it's laminated and coated through it's manufacturing process in a way to prevent breaking. and it can be mass produced.

The issue with Sapphire is that there were no manufacturing processes to get it thin enough or to mass produce enough of it to run Sapphire through similar strengthening processes Gorilla does for normal glass.

Guess what we've seen for the past year on Patently Apple? A crap ton of patents related to MFG and processing of Sapphire.. ALL FROM APPLE

So yea.. I believe the demo to be Sapphire.. done right..

Also; the comment in the article about Sapphire not being as clear? umm.. Sapphire is noted as being one of the purest substances on earth when it comes to allowing pure color and well known for it's near 0 opacity. Which is WHY they use it for the finger print scanner and camera lens cover! duh..
Rating: 12 Votes
34 months ago
Who cares what smartphone manufacturers want, doesn't it ultimately depend in what consumers want?
Rating: 11 Votes

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