Corning has developed a new version of its Gorilla Glass for smartphones and tablets that it says will result in 40 percent fewer scratches and appear in devices later this year, including Apple's iPhone 6 (or 5S), iPad 5 and iPad mini 2.
Corning makes the glass used in devices from Apple, Samsung and other top-tier vendors. It introduced Gorilla Glass 2 at the International CES in Las Vegas last year, and it's back again in 2013 with another update.
It's virtually impossibly to make glass completely scratch-proof, but Gorilla Glass 3 can stand three times as much force before it develops the kind of deep scratches, or trenches, that are visible to the eye, said David Velasquez, Corning's director of marketing for Gorilla Glass.
That extra strength should result in 40 percent fewer scratches, he said. And if the glass cracks, it retains more of its strength than it did previously, meaning it's less likely to shatter if it gets another knock. Corning delivered samples of the new glass last year and it will be in volume production in the next few months.
Most people think of keys in the pocket as a screen's worst enemy, but scratches are more likely to come from particles of sand and grit, like when a phone is placed on a tabletop, Velasquez said. His advice to avoid scratches is to use a proper cleaning cloth and not press too hard when polishing.
Corning's glass is strengthened through a chemical process it calls ion exchange, which creates a toughened outer layer on the glass substrate. Each refinement to that process yields smaller and smaller improvements. Velasquez wouldn't say when Corning will need to move to another process entirely, but he said the company's roadmap is "very strong."
Corning has also figured out how to make its glass curved, and it expects some smartphone and tablet makers to introduce devices with curved screens this year. It's not clear how useful that will be but, "it looks cool," according to Velasquez.
It's also partnered with another company, Atmel, which developed a touch-screen technology that's thin and flexible enough that it can be overlaid on the curved screens. That means devices could have touch controls on their outer edges, for example, in place of buttons. Atmel won a CES Innovations award for the technology.
It's not clear that people want curved tablets, though. Jim Turley, an industry analyst and editor of Electronic Engineering Journal, said it might be a hassle when it comes to storing them in a case or a bag. "It could be more trouble than its worth," he said.
But at least one vendor apparently thinks it's a good idea. A big maker of smartphones and tablets will announce a curved device at CES Monday that uses Atmel's touch-screen technology, according to Sander Arts, Atmel's vice president of marketing, though he wouldn't say who it is ahead of the announcement.
Corning and Atmel both expect to see glass touch-screens coming to more products in future, such as automobile consoles and appliances such as refrigerators and coffee machines. Glass screens look nicer and are easier to clean, they argue.
"Touch is going everywhere, and where touch goes, glass will follow," Velasquez said.