Apple could be considering a shift from Corning's Gorilla Glass to sapphire crystal for its future iPhones, new reports have suggested.
Patently Apple points to Walter Isaacson's official Steve Jobs biography, in which Corning's CEO Wendell Weeks said: "We produced a glass that had never been made." The report suggests that Corning could "consider manufacturing a new type of glass that seems to be the next big thing in glass. This next generation of glass is made from sapphire crystal."
Sapphire crystal, which is currently used for military armour, could be used for smartphones in the future, and could allow Apple to build a crack-proof, scratch-free iPhone. SEE: iPhone 6 release date, rumours and leaked images
However, sapphire crystal comes at a price, costing about ten times the amount of Gorilla Glass reports MIT Technology review. This price could decrease should Apple and other smartphone makers decide to take the new material into mass production, and as technology improves. Currently, Apple spends about $3 on Gorilla Glass for each individual iPhone, but sapphire glass could push this up to around $30 per unit to begin with, but is likely to fall below $20 within a couple of years, said Yole Developpement analyst Eric Virey.
While this may not be a cost that Apple is willing to absorb, Patently Apple highlights that Apple's devices are known for using top-notch materials and that improved glass could save on iPhone returns due to smashed displays.
Apple already uses sapphire crystal to cover the camera lens of its iSight camera, found on the iPhone 5. On its website, Apple writes: "Although the surface of the iSight camera is as clear as glass, it's not made of glass. It's actually sapphire crystal, whose hardness is second only to diamond on the scale of transparent materials. That means the surface of the lens is far less likely to scratch."
According to Virey, all major smartphone makers are considering replacing glass with sapphire crystal in their devices. "I'm convinced that some will start testing the water and release some high-end smartphones using sapphire in 2013," he said.
To reduce costs but still reap the benefits of sapphire crystal, smartphone makers could laminate a cheaper material with a thin layer of sapphire.
GT Advanced Technologies is already working on a method for making sapphire sheets thinner than human hair, says MIT. GT has a lower estimate for the cost of sapphire crystal, suggesting that the use of the material for smartphone displays will only be three to four times more than Gorilla Glass.
Corning has already shown off a new version of its Gorilla Glass, which promises 40 per cent fewer scratches and has already been rumoured to be used to toughen up the iPhone 6, iPad 5 and iPad mini 2.