Apple’s next iPhone may feature a display made of sapphire glass, BGR reported Jan. 27, citing a report from Taiwanese site Apple Daily. The latter reports that Foxconn has orders to manufacture 100 iPhone units with sapphire displays, presumably as a test run or early trial.
Apple currently uses sapphire for the protective cover on the camera lens of the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S, and also uses “laser-cut sapphire crystal” on the phone’s Home button, as part of its Touch ID solution.
Cracked displays are the most common fix requested by iPhone owners. Switching to the more durable sapphire would reduce expenses for Apple related to customer service and repairs, as well as offering savings to customers.
On Jan. 20, Apple began offering in-store display repairs for the iPhone 5C. While offsite repairs used to cost customers $229, the in-store fix is $149.
During an ABC News interview to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh Jan. 24, Apple CEO Tim Cook confirmed that Apple is opening a plant in Mesa, Ariz., where sapphire glass will be the focus.
Cook wouldn’t say when the glass will “come off the line,” as a reporter asked, or whether it will be for larger iPhone displays (as he also asked.) When lightly pressed again about whether the glass is for an iWatch, Cooks laughed and joked, “It’s for a ring!” The reporter then jokes to the camera, “You heard it here first!”
The real joke would be if the crystal actually were for a ring. In April 2013, Topeka Capital analyst Brian White traveled to Taiwan to try and dig up details on Apple’s plans. He reported that Apple is developing an “iRing” that will act as a navigational aid to Apple’s planned “iTV,” as well as complement a planned “iWatch” and eliminate the need to carry a smartphone around the house.
Apple’s current sapphire suppliers, Synopsys and Bern Optics, have made “significant investments” recently in sapphire-cutting machines and other equipment, and Apple is working with Swiss company Meyer Burger Technologies to buy new sapphire-cutting machines, MacRumors reported Jan. 24.
The report added that Apple has made a deal with GT Advanced Technologies, which will be tasked with building the sapphire production facility in Mesa.
“That facility is not yet operational, however, with Apple still hiring its own staff and GT Advanced Technologies recruiting employees to perform the bulk of the work at the facility,” it said.
Corning, the maker of Gorilla Glass—which as of May 2013 was on more than 1.5 billion devices—has said that while sapphire works well as a watch cover, it’s less ideal for much larger surfaces, such as a mobile phone display.
“Discussion seems to center around sapphire as an obvious solution for a cover material,” Corning Senior Vice President Jefferey Evenson said in a May report.
“What would people say if someone invented a cover that was about half the weight, used 99 percent less energy to make, provided brighter displays and cost less than a tenth of sapphire?” Evenson continued. “I think they’d say that sapphire is in real trouble. It so happens that we at Corning already invented that cover—and it’s called Gorilla Glass.”
Apple on Jan. 27 reported record revenue of $57.6 billion in its fiscal 2014 first quarter, up from $54.5 billion a year earlier. (The “whispers” on Wall Street, eWhispers reported on Seeking Alpha, were for an expected revenue of around $58.5 billion in the latest quarter.)