Among the many rumors circulating regarding the upcoming iPhone 6 is the idea that the phone will feature a sapphire crystal screen. In May, 9to5Mac reported that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) had partnered with GT Advanced (NASDAQ:GTAT) and prepared a new plant in Arizona to manufacture sapphire displays for the much-anticipated new model of the iPhone, putting the appropriate furnaces into place and making shipments of sapphire to China, where the phones are being manufactured.
In one of the more recent supposed leaks, YouTube user Marques Brownlee tests the durability of what’s reportedly a sapphire iPhone 6 screen, bending it under his foot, taking a knife to it, and scratching it with his keys, all to it to no effect. He and others commenting on the “durability test” declare the screen “indestructible” and “unbreakable,” though of course he couldn’t try what might be the most important test — dropping the phone — since he only had a screen. But it’s expected that a sapphire screen could solve one of the most notorious problems with the iPhone: the prevalence of broken screens, which shatter when dropped on a hard surface. Better impact resistance, more than scratch resistance, would represent a benefit to consumers.
The screen that Brownlee shows in the video is “paper thin,” and shows no color distortion, in addition to being able to withstand a lot of abuse. The thinness and clarity are good signs, given recent concerns that sapphire would be thicker and less transmissive of light than the Corning Gorilla Glass used in current iPhones.
It’s been widely reported that Apple will launch a 4.7-inch version and a 5.5-inch version of the iPhone 6.The screen that Brownlee tests is reportedly from the 4.7-inch model, which has been the subject of more leaks than the larger 5.5-inch model. It’s been unclear whether the sapphire will actually appear on the 4.7-inch iPhone 6, with recent rumors claiming that the material will be featured only on the 5.5-inch model. However, it seems likely that both phones will feature sapphire screens, and it’s also possible that Apple intends to outfit the rumored iWatch with a sapphire screen as well.
Apple already uses sapphire crystal for small components, such as the camera lens and the iPhone 5s home button. However, the material has traditionally been prohibitively expensive to produce in large quantities, a challenge that Apple may have looked to overcome with its new facility and partnership with GT Advanced. MacRumors reports that the Arizona facility is equipped with enough furnaces and chamber systems to produce between 100 million and 200 million sapphire displays. (For context: Apple sold 150 million iPhones in 2013).
Along with rumors of a sapphire crystal display come rumors of a higher price point for the iPhone 6. MacRumors explains the current thinking around the company’s pricing strategy with the new models:
“Two lines and two sizes will possibly allow for Apple to continue with its current pricing strategy, offering a full-priced flagship device, a mid-tier lower-cost device, and previous generation devices at an even lower cost. Current rumors suggest that Apple will not continue producing a plastic iPhone, and will instead use metal casings for both phones. Multiple rumors have indicated that Apple might possibly raise the price of the larger 5.5-inch iPhone 6 by $100, making it $299 with a carrier contract, while selling the smaller 4.7-inch iPhone for the standard $199 on contract. With the higher price comes additional features — thus far, the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 is said to offer a sapphire crystal display, a 128GB storage option, and optical image stabilization, three features that may not make it into the smaller 4.7-inch iPhone 6.”
The iPhone has traditionally been positioned as a premium product, and the inclusion of the sapphire screen would necessitate an appropriately premium price tag. Of course, given that Apple hasn’t made any official announcements, it’s possible that the company won’t make the iPhone 6 its first sapphire product, instead rolling out the material with something smaller (like the iWatch) first.
However, if Apple does launch the new iPhone models with the sapphire crystal screen, the durable material combined with the larger screen size and the improvements made with iOS 8 would bolster Apple’s competition against Android, or at least serve as a strong selling point for the new phones.
With the iPhone 6 expected to launch by the end of September, leaks and rumors are sure to continue until Apple makes the official announcement. The screen that Brownlee tests in his video came courtesy of Sonny Dickson, a source of numerous rumors and leaks who is expected to leak more parts between now and September. In his video, Brownlee claims, “This isn’t a mockup. This is an actual, straight-off-the-assembly-line iPhone 6 part from Apple.” Of course, whether that’s true is impossible to know yet — which is what keeps fans watching videos and reading rumors until official information is available.