Will Apple's iPhone 6 feature a virtually indestructible sapphire screen? Reports on the Web are pointing to that possibility.
Several videos have emerged online that purport to test the strength of an iPhone sapphire screen. Last week, for instance, a video surfaced on the Web demonstrating a "stress test" of what was alleged to be an actual transparent sapphire cover from Apple's assembly line. An X-Acto knife wouldn't scratch it, a hammer and nail couldn't pierce it, and other attempts to mar, damage or break the screen proved futile until the tester ran over it with his car. The 1.6 tons worked, smashing the screen.
The video supports the rumor that Apple is intending to replace Corning's Gorilla Glass currently used on the iPhone. The replacement, according to the rumors, would be a new sapphire glass screen from GT Advanced Technologies. The sapphire glass is not actually glass, but a single, transparent sapphire crystal grown and sliced in a lab.
Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, pointed out to us that "Apple has certainly used unique materials in the past, [having] pioneered the use of Gorilla Glass."
He noted that Gorilla Glass has been through several generations since Apple first introduced it, and it is "harder to break now than it used to be." Greengart said that HTC, among others, has addressed the screen damage issue in part by offering to fix or replace the screen for free within six months of purchase.
When asked if a sapphire screen could provide a competitive edge for the iPhone 6, Greengart said that, while he couldn't speak about whether the rumors are accurate, Apple could establish a competitive edge by its manufacturing muscle.
"One of the things that Apple does with its cash is investing to ensure capacity for sophisticated manufacturing techniques that other vendors are not willing to try," he said. In this fashion, the company could set up advanced manufacturing techniques, and buy out much or all of the capacity of a certain manufacturing path and feeder materials.
According to rumors, the iPhone 6 will be launched in September with two versions, a 4.7-inch and a 5.5-inch display model. One rumor has contended that only the 5.5-inch model will feature the sapphire screen, but others have reported that both models will.
However, AppleInsider reported Monday that the 5.5-inch iPhone is having "issues" about its development that will delay its launch until next year. The report, citing KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chin Kuo, said that production bottlenecks are also affecting the 4.7-inch model, but not to the extent that they are affecting the 5.5-inch. The larger model is being discussed as a kind of "phablet," a smartphone that approaches the size of a small tablet.
Last week, Apple received a patent for building electronic devices with "glass housing structures" that are fused entirely out of glass, or that fuse glass and metal.