All Evidence Suggests Next iPhone Will Have a Sapphire Display

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For a while now we’ve been following rumors that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) might be planning to use sapphire glass for the display of its upcoming iPhone 6. Evidence continues to pile up, so let’s take a look at the hints we’ve seen so far.

Last year Apple inked a $578 million deal with GT Advanced Technologies, an Arizona-based company that, among other things, manufactures sapphire. Part of that money will go toward a “next-generation, large capacity” advanced sapphire furnace that could presumably accommodate the large amounts of the material Apple would need to produce for iPhone displays.

To prepare for the increase in business, GT Advanced Technologies has started to “build out the facility in Arizona and staff the operation during the quarter,” according to its earnings report.

Soon it was uncovered that GT Advanced Technologies ordered “inspection tool components” that are specifically designed to inspect “display-grade components.” That’s another pretty strong hint that the company has big plans for sapphire. Then, Apple filed a patent titled “Oleophobic Coating On Sapphire,” which outlines a method of applying an oil-repelling coating on sapphire — perfect for protecting a glass surface from showing fingerprints that would otherwise mar the look of a big touchscreen.

Now, AppleInsider reports that GT Advanced Technologies has begun shipping small amounts of sapphire to one of Apple’s manufacturing partners in China, and that it’s revving up for mass production later this year.

Mass production of what, exactly, still hasn’t been announced, although it has been called a “critical” component. And since glass is only used in a few places on an iPhone, it’s not hard to guess what it might be. Apple already uses sapphire-enhanced glass in the Touch ID fingerprint sensor button on the iPhone 5S, as well as on the device’s rear camera lens. All of these signs point to the fact that the next iPhone may coming with an all-sapphire glass face.

The main benefit of glass made with sapphire is that it’s almost impossible to scratch. The more scratch-resistant Apple can make its phones, the better. That way, you can drop an iPhone in a pocket with a set of keys or loose change and not worry about screen damage the next time you go to make a call.

Currently, iPhone displays are made of Gorilla Glass, a potassium-enhanced product made by Corning. Another benefit of sapphire glass is that it can be made thinner than Gorilla Glass, which could allow for a slimmer, lighter iPhone, two qualities Apple has always strived for in its iOS devices.

Lastly, in a conference call last month, when asked about Apple’s reported move toward sapphire glass, Corning CFO Jim Flaws and corporate controller Tony Tripeny had mostly negative things to say about the material. BGR reports that Tripeny said: “When we look at it, we see a lot of disadvantages of sapphire versus Gorilla Glass. It’s about 10 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. … So when we look at it, we think from an overall industry and trend that is not attractive in consumer electronics.”

Whether those statements are true or not, they sound as though they might be coming from a company that’s about to lose a lot of business to a sapphire company — like GT Advanced Technologies, for instance.

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