Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) competitors are reportedly anxious about the possibility that the upcoming iPhone 6's screens will be made made of sapphire.
Currently, the displays for several smartphone brands, including the iPhone, are made of Gorilla Glass by Corning Inc. (NYSE: GLW). However, as Apple takes an increasing number of steps toward self-sufficiency and relies less on third-party suppliers to make its device components, certain companies that seem to have a monopoly on their market could soon have serious competition.
Earlier this year, Apple announced plans to build a sapphire manufacturing facility in Mesa, Arizona, and it filed a sapphire-related patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO); these reports fueled rumors that the iPhone 6, expected this fall, would have a sapphire screen.
Though neither the iPhone 6 nor what its screens will be made of were confirmed by Apple, Corning is already going on the offensive. The glassmaker recently shared a video on its website comparing the strength of Gorilla Glass to that of sapphire glass to demonstrate its argument that Gorilla Glass is superior. According to the video, after withstanding the equivalent of everyday wear and tear, sapphire glass breaks after being put under 161 pounds of pressure, while Gorilla Glass can withstand over 430 pounds – or 2.5 times the weight that sapphire glass can handle without breaking.
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The Corning, New York, glassmaker has anticipated the introduction of sapphire glass for some time. During a conference hosted by Morgan Stanley Technology in March, Corning Principal Accounting Officer Tony Tripeny defended Gorillas Glass against claims about sapphire glass. In addition to Apple products like the iPhone and the iPad, Gorilla Glass is found on devices by Samsung Electronics Co. (KRX: 005930), HTC Corp. (TPE: 2498), Motorola Solutions Inc. (NYSE: MSI), Nokia Co. (NYSE: NOK) and many others.
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.
Meanwhile, recent news surrounding Apple’s prospective new screen included a leaked video that supposedly shows a 4.7-inch iPhone 6 screen panel. London Imperial Professor Neal Alford told the Guardian he believes is the panel is made out of sapphire. The video demonstrates how the glass can be scratched, scraped and stabbed with a knife or keys without being damaged. According to video presenter Marques Brownlee, Apple already uses sapphire in various iPhone components, including camera lenses and home buttons, because of the material’s high quality and durability.
Details about new Apple smartphones likely won’t be confirmed for some time. The Cupertino, California, company is expected to announce the iPhone 6 in September.