Why Didn’t Apple Use Sapphire Glass in the iPhone 6?

Why Didn’t Apple Use Sapphire Glass in the iPhone 6?

Why Didn’t Apple Use Sapphire Glass in the iPhone 6?

It is a longstanding tradition for the rumour mill to heat up before a highly anticipated Apple product launch. With each event getting more attention than the previous, it is no surprise that sometimes the hype gets out of hand.

This has led to a new tradition: the entire internet griping about which rumours and leaks that Apple was unable to fulfill with their latest product.

The case was no different for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus launch yesterday at the Flint Center in Cupertino. Prior to launch, the most persistent buzz about the iPhone 6 was that it would be the first major smartphone to adopt sapphire glass displays rather than use Gorilla Glass, the industry standard.

However, as the launch got closer and closer, it became more and more doubtful that sapphire glass would be used – even despite Apple’s $578 million investment in producing the material. Reports were that the Arizona plant was still slow to ramp up, and it also surfaced that supply chain insiders had not seen enough orders go through.

So why didn’t Apple use sapphire glass in the iPhone 6?

The first reason has to do with the sapphire glass itself. While the material is almost as hard to scratch as a diamond, it turns out that any small impurity in the material can severely compromise its structural integrity. GT Advanced Technologies, the maker that Apple has partnered with, would have had to ramp up production to unprecedented levels while producing flawless material for an estimated 80 million iPhones.

What makes this even more difficult is the way that synthetic sapphires are made. To grow each crystal, aluminum oxide must be heated to 3,700°F in a controlled furnace. Then, the crystal is grown out in a boule and cut with diamond-laced saws. This is a very intricate and involving process, which is much more difficult to ramp up than an industrial scale glass operation such as that of Corning and its Gorilla Glass.

The second big reason that made sapphire glass difficult to integrate within a short timeline is that the economies of scale are not yet there to make the price worthwhile for Apple customers. There are multiple estimates on the price differential, but one estimate puts sapphire as 10x more expensive than Gorilla Glass.

That could be brought down significantly with streamlined production, likely to at least the 3-4x range. In any case, to keep the same margins Apple has, the cost would have to be passed to the customer. Is it worth $100+ to the end user to have more scratch resistant glass?

Maybe some would agree, but Apple believes that it definitely wasn’t worth the risk just yet.


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  • sheik yerbutti

    Your source says sapphire glass is ten times the cost of Gorilla glass. Yet you say sapphire glass costs ten times more than Gorilla glass.

    If X costs the same as Y, does that mean X costs one time more than Y?

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