Apple’s next iPhone may have sapphire crystal displays

Douglas Soltys

February 7, 2014 7:09am

9to5Mac has done some great investigative reporting regarding Apple’s manufacturing deal with GT Advanced and its implication on future Apple products. Last year, Apple and GT Advanced partnered to open a manufacturing facility in Mesa, Arizona, although the stated purpose of the facility at that time was unclear. 9to5Mac is now claiming that Apple plans to use the facility to produce sapphire crystal displays for future iPhones.

Scouring GT Advanced import/export records, 9to5Mac has learned that the company has ordered a significant amount of Intego Sirius Sapphire Display Inspection Tool components. These machines are used specifically to inspect display-grade components, and not for camera sensors or Touch ID-enabled home buttons.

Sapphire crystal displays are very strong and scratch resistant, and would offer a suitable replacement to the current Gorilla Glass iPhone displays. GT Advanced has the capability to produce approximately 100-200 million 5-inch sapphire crystal displays per year for Apple, and a recent SEC filing indicates that the companies are currently in an exclusive partnership relating to “Consumer Electronic Products”, so it’s highly unlikely that this recent investment would be for any non-Apple products.

There are more specifics on the evidence at the source link below. Post a comment and let us know your thoughts on the possibility of an iPhone 6 with a sapphire crystal display.

  • mortenmhp

    Please make a clear distinction between glass and display…

  • JTon

    Is sapphire crystal glass superior to gorilla glass in any way? “Suitable for replacement” isn’t very exciting news

    • Anaron

      The only thing harder than a sapphire gemstone is a diamond. That should put things into perspective. It’s a corundum which is only differentiated by colour (e.g. red is ruby, blue is sapphire).

    • Josh Brown

      Sapphire mentioned here is aluminum oxide not carbon like diamonds. Also sapphire and diamonds a very strong but also brittle. The two traits go hand in hand. So it won’t scratch but the slightest deflection and the screen would shatter.

    • It’s Me

      Let’s hear from the experts:

      ““Chemically strengthened glass can be excellent, but sapphire is better in terms of hardness, strength, and toughness,” says Matthew Hall, Director of the Center for Advanced Ceramic Technology at the Kazuo Inamori School of Engineering at Alfred University. “The fracture toughness of sapphire should be around 4 times greater than Gorilla Glass – about 3 MPa-m0.5 versus 0.7 MPa-m0.5, respectively.”

      The hardness of sapphire will make it resistance to ‘flaw initiation’ (aka starting to scratch) and its ‘toughness’ is how it resists fracture once a flaw has begun (cracking altogether). ”

      Sounds like maybe it isn’t more prone to fracture. Might be. Might not.

    • Josh Brown

      We need something better than both like Willow glass or something similar that is flexible. Having something brittle is crazy. Phones are going to get sat on and dropped. This is especially need the larger phones get and the thinner the get. LG and Samsung or on the right path with flexible OLED’s they just need good glass/coated plastic to go with it.

    • It’s Me

      I’ve wondered about those flexible OLEDs. I wonder how they stand up to sudden shock and/or edge impact. I really haven’t read anything that claims they are more fracture resistant except in the case of a a relatively show bending along a specific axis. and once it is scored with a scratch, would than impact it’s ability to flex?

    • Josh Brown

      How would you scratch the OLED?

    • It’s Me

      I meant the top covering layer. Perhaps the willow glass, except that isn’t intended to be on top, it’s meant to be a substrate, so difficult to scratch.

      Guess that leaves GG or sapphire as the top layer.

    • Josh Brown

      I am pretty sure willow is meant to be the top layer. I would rather use a screen protector then have my phone glass smash.

    • It’s Me

      Pretty sure you are wrong.

      From Corning:
      “Corning® WillowTM Glass is for substrate and Corning® Gorilla® Glass is for cover”
      “Willow Glass is a thin and flexible glass _substrate_”

    • Josh Brown

      I can’t find that reference. Where did you find it? Whey would you put flexible glass under non flexible glass? That makes no sense.

    • It’s Me

      Google can be your friend.

    • Josh Brown

      Corning® Willow® Glass

      Corning Willow Glass will help enable thin, light and cost-efficient applications including today’s slim displays and the smart surfaces of the future. The thinness, strength and flexibility of the glass has the potential to enable displays to be “wrapped” around a device or structure. As well, Corning Willow Glass can be processed at temperatures up to 500° C. High temperature processing capability is essential for today’s high end displays, and is a processing condition that cannot be supported with polymer films. Corning Willow Glass will enable the industry to pursue high-temperature, continuous “roll-to-roll” processes – similar to how newsprint is produced – that have been impossible until now.

      It will support thinner backplanes and color filters for both Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLED) and liquid crystal displays (LCD) in high performance, portable devices such as smart phones, tablets, and notebook computers. This new, ultra-slim flexible glass will also help develop conformable (curved) displays for immersive viewing or mounting on non-flat surfaces.

      Corning Willow Glass is formulated to perform exceptionally well for electronic components such as touch sensors, as well as leveraging glass’s natural hermetic properties as a seal for OLED displays and other moisture and oxygen sensitive technologies.

      I see nothing about substrate from corning

    • It’s Me

      Keep looking. Can’t expect me to always hold your hand.

      Here’s a clue: take the quotes I posted, put them in quotation marks and search. They’ll take you right to cornings site.

    • jroc

      Exactly. Corning says that strengthened Gorilla Glass is 701 on the Vickers Scale, which puts it in line with a material that is around a 6 on the Mohs Scale. Sapphire is a 9 on that scale, so it should be way more scratch resistant.

    • It’s Me

      Depends on who you ask. Sapphire is unquestionably far more scratch resistant that Gorilla glass. Even Corning won’t try to deny that. However, if you talk to Corning (and they are terrified by Sapphire) they have done their one internal studies and claim that their glass is more fracture resistant than Sapphire. However, independent studies at universities appear to show this in untrue and that sapphire meets or beats GG. Further, GT has been investing in new methods that improve on the strength of sapphire in that regard.

      Look at it this way: Apple was the first phone manufacturer to go with Gorilla glass and is very likely the #1 or #2 buyer of the material. They have a lot of faith in the product and it has served them well. It would take a lot for them to consider investing many hundreds of millions into switching to a completely different material. They would only do so if there was a significant and measurable advantage to doing so and one that would be difficult for others to copy quickly.

    • alphs22

      Great post.

    • Anaron

      Awesome comment, It’s Me. I can’t add anything to it so I’ll simply acknowledge your knowledge.

    • expat

      I have a 28 years old Seiko watch with a sapphire glass. Not a scratch after all these years!

  • awhite2600

    I wonder if the sapphire displays could be used in the iWatch.

    • It’s Me

      If you buy any highend watch today, it will use a sapphire crystal. Less expensive watches will be “sapphire coated” and if you go walmart, then it will be glass.

      If there ever is an iWatch, it will use sapphire, guaranteed. Apple already uses it for their camera lenses and the TouchID sensor.

  • Samuel Gomez Recuero

    another excuse to keep jacking up the prices

    • It’s Me

      ummm, if it costs more to make, then it is reasonable to cost more to sell.

      I guess they could instead use cheaper material and sell it for the same price. Like plastic shells.

    • thomas nguyen

      like the iphone 5c? but yet still cost $100 – $150 more than other phones of the same tier?

    • It’s Me

      Yeah, basically. Make it cheap and sell it high. Seems like people aren’t buying them though, so maybe that only works for similar samsung’s, like the Galaxy lineup. Those sell like crazy.

    • alphs22

      Release prices of unlocked iPhones at the US Apple Store:

      iPhone 4: $649 (summer 2011)
      iPhone 4s: $649 (fall 2011)
      iPhone 5: $649 (fall 2012)
      iPhone 5s: $649 (fall 2013)

      They haven’t changed the release price in 4 generations. Nice try.

    • Josh Brown

      Price of unlocked nexus 5 $350
      Price of unlocked moto g $175

    • It’s Me

      And that’s great, but it hardly rebuts the argument of improvements being made only to increase price. Given their costs, they will charge what they will charge. They certainly aren’t going to try to increase costs unnecessarily. That cuts into margins or necessitates price increase just to maintain margins.

    • Josh Brown

      But the hardware should be getting cheaper as it is mass produced.

    • It’s Me

      It might. Unless they are continuing to invest in better materials and R&D into improving the hardware.

      Buying off the shelf is cheaper. Doing your own custom CPU architecture, OS, materials, manufacturing processes and/or investing in materials and procedures that are not as commoditized, like in-cell displays, sapphire, etc, will drive your costs up.

      The better questions, is why are effectively whitebox devices, that use cheaper, older and commodity parts and software, able to charge as much without having to invest so much in customer material, parts, software and processes?

    • Josh Brown

      Apple iPhone 5 is one of the cheapest to manufacture. It was about $40 cheaper than phones around the same price point.

    • It’s Me

      Completely untrue. Notice they only ever are looking at the BOM and then are making educated guesses as to the price for the parts in the BOM. That completely ignores they cost of manufacturing. Given Apple uses processes with the highest degree of “fit and finish”, this will raises manufacturing costs.

      So, they are guessing on the cost of the parts and using only the costs of those parts in their estimates. That is not at all the same as the cost to manufacture. Nice try, but you know better than that Josh.

    • Josh Brown

      Really foxconn is the highest degree of fit and finish. Why is apple one of the richest companies in the world it the is no giant up charge?

    • It’s Me

      I’m not disputing they have enviable margins. But to look at only the BOM and claim that is the cost of manufacturing is really, really, naive to the point of ignorance (I say that without any intention to insult or offend). It’s barely better than looking at the cost of the raw materials, like glass, aluminum, silicon and copper and say that is the cost of manufacturing. It isn’t even close.

      And yes, foxconn, if you pay them enough and perhaps design the process and equipment for them, can and will provide a high degree of fit and finish.

    • Josh Brown

      Spoken like a true fan boy. (Slow clap)

    • It’s Me

      Why, because I don’t swallow misinformation and FUD?

    • Josh Brown

      Because you do. Apples propaganda of “our phones are more expensive because our hardware is higher specs” until other phones have better specs. Then “OK our hardware isn’t better because it is built better”

    • It’s Me

      You are now intentionally misrepresenting the discussion. You’ve moved from what I assumed was ignorance and straight into dishonesty. Nice.

      I don’t know Apple has ever claimed their specs are superior and therefore of higher cost. In fact, Apple often tends not to release their specs (i.e. have the ever detailed the Mhz of their iPhones?). You claimed, out of what I thought was simple ignorance, that the BOM represented the cost to manufacture. I corrected you on that misinformation, in that (a) that is only a guess at the BOM and (b) BOM is only a part of the cost of manufacturing. So, not only do you not know their BOM, you ignore a major part of cost of manufacturing in order to arrive at your misinformation.

      I can’t help that you are both ignorant and dishonest. But I can try to dispel your misinformation and FUD. If you are going to hate on Apple, that’s your prerogative. But unless it comes from some form of neurosis, you would be better to base it on facts instead of having to making things up. Making up reasons to hate is not a sign of maturity or mental stability.

      That you the need to get personal when your misinformation is pointed out also speaks volumes of your character. I guess you get your own slow clap.

    • Josh Brown

      You are a apple fan right? How is that insulting?

      Retina display they rode that for 2-3 years.

    • It’s Me

      I do like their products, but that doesn’t make me a fan. I also like my Samsung TV and my Audi, but that doesn’t make me a fan. I am a fan of technology, so that’s one reason Apple interests me. What I am not a fan of is dishonesty or misinformation.

      In terms of DPI, yes, they rode Retina. But where they could measurably improve the display, they did no. Since the original introduction, the colour accuracy has improved, the glare has been reduce via their thinner manufacturing, they invested in pushing in-cell tech. So, could they have pushed DPI higher? Sure, but to what end? If it doesn’t arguably improve the experience, what’s the point? When higher DPI provides a better viewing experience and/or doesn’t affect battery life or increase heat or cost, then perhaps they will switch to it. For now, if it makes no difference to the human eye, what reason is there to do it now?

    • WatDah

      You tell ’em buddy! I will never understand how and why people have so much hate for a god damn tech company. You’d think they killed their parents or something.

    • Josh Brown

      I just think it is terrible that they charge 300 more for a product that is inferior

    • It’s Me

      You’re talking about Samsung right? Plastic cases, OLED, legacy off the shelf CPU’s, no cost OS, low markup for manufacturing since the own the plants and make the parts.

      I’m being facetious, but your idea of overcharging is way off base. Seems common with you.

    • Josh Brown

      OK if you are not a apple fan boy tell me some bad things about I phones.

    • It’s Me

      They are getting sort of small. I don’t want a tablet in a purse like the Note, but more than the current size. I should qualify that, in that I don’t actually mind the current size, in that it is really good for one handed use. If they go to a larger size, I’d like it only if they maintain that usability.

      They are too closed in terms of what they _allow_. I’d like to see the platform opened to developers a bit more, like allowing alternative app stores or developer replacement of system default elements like the keyboard or browser.

      That’s two I can think of off the top of my head.

    • cartfan88

      And with the last line your post loses any credibility. Nice.

    • It’s Me

      Look, there is an obvious and intentional disconnect from reality with many of Josh’s posts, as well as some apparent dishonesty. In that light, I can think of no better example that Rob Ford. Do you think Ford would be as notable if he was known for his honest and grasp of reality?

    • redheadednomad

      You’re comparing a drug-abusing, homophobic, morally corrupt windbag to a guy you have a difference of opinion with on a tech forum? Wow.

    • It’s Me

      Nope. I’m comparing him to someone that bends the truth and lies and has a problem with honesty.

      Do they not teach words like hyperbole in schools anymore?

      Seriously, you guys need to pull the pickle out of your asses and relax.
      (note: I’m not actually claiming you have a literal pickle in you a*s. Wow. It’s a shame one needs to clarify that sort of thing)

    • It’s Me

      “Wow. It’s a shame you had to come online to be a d!ck to complete strangers”

      Also, look up hypocrisy.

      And duh, Ford is an extreme example of dishonesty. Did you bother to look up the word hyperbole?

      So, it’s short bus day on MS? Well done ginger boy.

    • It’s Me

      Also look up irony. Maybe, before you start calling out people for name calling, you should notice that you were the one throwing out “d!ick”. At this point, you’ve had 2 posts deleted for name calling…and yet now accuse others of name calling. Brilliant!

      These seems futile. Your grasp of the language is so limited and your hypocrisy is sort of embarrassing.

    • alphs22

      Yes I think everyone knows that. Not relevant to the discussion however.

    • bembol

      So what’s Samsung’s excuse? The 16GB is similar or even cheaper than the competition. My only complaint from Apple is the their Storage pricing and that’s where it gets expensive.

      I’m sure when Samsung uses Sapphire on their next line and increases the price, it’s okay right?

      I love both, I just find it ridiculous how people find ways to attack Apple.

    • Josh Brown

      Because the screen is the major expense. Bigger screen equals higher expense. I am not saying Samsung is cheap but iPhone has a mush smaller lower resolution screen.

    • It’s Me

      Size of the display is only one factor in the price of the display. Things like resolution, thickness, quality of material, type of display etc all play a role too. if all those are equal, then yes, bigger will generally be most expensive but size is certainly not the main factor in the price of a display, any display. Using tech like OLED can help keep costs down significantly.

      Any other companies using in-cell tech on their displays?

    • Josh Brown

      Well apple uses low resolution LCD.

    • It’s Me

      Low of course being relative. If by low you mean the resolution at which the human eye can no longer differentiate higher resolutions at the distance the display would be normally viewed, then no, it isn’t low. If you mean low as in lower than others that have bumped resolution as a bullet point, then yes, absolutely.

      About as useful as saying their CPUs are lower Mhz…unless you missed the 90s completely, people stopped buying into the Mhz myth (well until today and it seems the same luddites are buying it again).

  • Josh Brown

    Any substance that is harder/scratch resistant is going to be brittle. So with paper thin glass or sapphire you want it to give a bit. So that it does not shatter when you drop it or sit on it. A flexible plastic with sapphire coating would be the best if they could pull it off.

    Personally I would rather use a screen protector than have my screen shatter.

    • It’s Me

      Scratches can often weaken the surface tension of a material and lead to catastrophic failure, i.e. if you glass scratched, the more likely it is to shatter from that point.

      So, if you can apply a thin layer of sapphire to glass, then you end up with no scratches on that glass that can weaken it. Depending on how they are bonded, then (I am guessing) the sapphire layer would benefit from the strengths of the glass substrate as a whole.

    • Josh Brown

      It has to be a very deep scratch for that to apply. Most scratch on a cell phone are micro scratches. Even glass is to brittle the material needs to flex then have the layer of sapphire on it.

    • It’s Me

      When I say glass, I mean various glass substrate options. So some form of GG might be an option or another treated glass material with some of the same benefits.

      The scratching doesn’t have to be very deep. As long as the surface is scored, then it is weakened.

    • Josh Brown

      Scored is deep.

    • It’s Me

      Scoring is simply a scratch that breaks the surface strength of a material. The deeper, the more it has weakened the material, but scoring, in and of itself, does not need to be deep.

  • Adrian Maendel

    I’d say it’s more likely the tech will be used for Apple’s smartwatch displays.

  • Jokester_tm

    What’s weird is that nobody made the link of sapphire glass and watches…. Every good watch uses saphire so maybe it was a requirement to product an iwatch which competes against all other watches. I’m sure they are trying not only to appeal to nerds but also to fashionista… Apple hired some top execs from the fashion industry so I think the iwatch has a shot to compete against the Tags and Rolex… (At a completely different price point of course) …but it needs to look like a real watch and provide the features everyone wants.

    Forgot to mention…. A watch is exposed to more scratches because its always out in the open vs the phones which spend most of their time in your pocket or case.