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Here’s Why Glass Is Still Beating Sapphire

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Smartphone manufacturers are sticking with glass

Around this time last year, the tech world was buzzing around rumors that Apple’s new iPhone would have a screen made out of sapphire, a material considered tougher than typical glass. Apple invested over $500 million in an Arizona sapphire facility, ostensibly to produce the material for what became the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. But shortly thereafter it became clear that facility wouldn’t be able to produce the amount of sapphire Apple would need, and the whole endeavor was scrapped amid a legal battle with the Arizona supplier. Since then, Apple hasn’t shown much interest in using sapphire to cover entire iPhones, opting instead for the latest version of Corning’s Gorilla Glass.

A large company I can’t name recently asked me to re-examine sapphire’s use in mobile devices. From my preliminary research, it looks like glass will continue on as the de-facto standard for smartphones and tablets in the future, while sapphire may be used more often for wearable devices that need more durability — Apple uses sapphire in the two higher-end Apple Watch models, for instance.

That company wanted to know one thing: What do mobile users want in a screen they look at and touch over 100 times a day? To get an answer, I interviewed people who make the screens used in most smartphones, as well as big manufacturers who use the screens in their products. Unsurprisingly, the biggest companies continue to use Gorilla Glass in most of their products. The two global mobile device leaders, Apple and Samsung, use Gorilla Glass because of its improved strength, thinness, durability and cost effectiveness. I expected cost to be a big factor here, as it’s been estimated sapphire screens cost three times what Gorilla Glass does.

Still, Corning is well aware of the threat sapphire might pose. It’s working hard to address durability issues with its latest Gorilla Glass 4 and a new screen material expected to be out this year, currently called Project Phire, which Corning says will boast scratch resistance approaching that of sapphire displays.

 

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