The alleged screen cover leak for Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) highly rumored iPhone 6 may actually be made out of sapphire.
According to a report in the Guardian on Friday, a professor from London’s Imperial believes that the alleged iPhone 6 screens covers are legitimate. In one of the many iPhone 6 screen cover videos circulating the web, the 4.7-inch screen subjected to a multitude of scratch and bend tests, passing with flying colors.
“What I think they’ve done is make a screen out of sapphire, which is incredibly scratch resistant, incredibly hard and has a high elastic modulus, meaning it’s very stiff,” Professor Neal Alford told the Guardian.
The Cupertino, California tech titan first used sapphire in the iPhone 5 in 2012 as a lens cover. With the release of the iPhone 5S in 2013, Apple expanded its use of sapphire with the introduction of the Touch ID fingerprint sensor.
Two months after the release of the iPhone 5S, Merrimack, New Hampshire’s GT Advanced Technologies Inc. (NASDAQ:GTAT) announced its partnership with Apple to build and operate a sapphire manufacturing facility in Mesa, Arizona. This development sparked several rumors about Apple potentially using sapphire as a display material on the iPhone 6.
These rumors were further fueled in March, when the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published a patent filed by Apple, which describes a process of applying an “oleophobic coating on sapphire.”
The rumored sapphire screen has only physically materialized in recent weeks, but Apple had reportedly explored the use of sapphire in iOS devices as early as 18 months ago.
“I remember the Apple folk coming to speak to me about 18 months ago to discuss sapphire screens,” Alford told the Guardian. "They’ve obviously been busy since then, working with a sapphire manufacturer."
What’s more surprising to experts is not that Apple is using sapphire, but that they may have found a cost-efficient way to manufacture, slice and polish the third hardest mineral, behind moissanite and diamond.
Analyst Mark Margolis noted that Apple hinted at this in its oleophobic coating patent, which described a process of applying a fingerprint-resistant coating by “batch processing” a solid piece of sapphire instead of individual screens.
Gorilla Glass manufacturer, Corning Inc. (NYSE:GLW) recently criticized sapphire as a display material. Corning Senior Vice President Tony Tripeny had this to say at the Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) Media and Telecom Conference in in March:
“When we look at it, we see a lot of disadvantages of sapphire versus Gorilla Glass. It's about ten times more expensive. It's about 1.6 times heavier. It's environmentally unfriendly. It takes about 100 times more energy to generate a sapphire crystal than it does glass. It transmits less light, which it means either dimmer devices or shorter battery life. It continues to break.”
If Apple did find a cost efficient way of producing sapphire, it may have its competitors eating their own words. But it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to follow up with their own sapphire screens if Apple and GT Advanced Technologies patented their screen manufacturing process.
Apple’s highly rumored iPhone 6 is expected to contain the 2.8 GHz A8 processor along with 2GB of RAM. The iPhone 6 is also expected to run the upcoming iOS 8 mobile operating system, which is currently in beta testing.
Several analysts, including KGI Securities’ Ming Chi-Kuo, expect the iPhone 6 will be available in 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch versions sometime in September.