The Challenge of Sapphire for the Screens of Smartphones

The first signs that pointed to the possibility of that Smartphone manufacturers began to use Sapphire blades to protect the screens of their phones they took shape a year ago. Then we hardly knew that it is a mineral that is exotic, expensive and harder than the glass, which can be interesting for applications in which it is necessary to have a material capable of withstanding impacts and scratches.

But shortly after Apple appeared, and, while Tim Cook and his men initially did not confirm it, we discovered by others that this company was interested in the Sapphire to the point of grabbing most of the production synthetic mineral on the planet. Is the interest of Apple in this material really justified? And, if finally comes to our smartphones, would perceive the benefits users who we already have screen with Gorilla Glass 3 coverages or similar? Let’s look at this more closely.

By what Sapphire?

Sapphire is one of the toughest available in natural minerals that exist; in fact, its only hardness is exceeded by the diamond. To measure the hardness of a material is commonly used a scale proposed nearly two centuries ago by the German geologist Friedrich Mohs very easy to understand. Mohs hardness table assigns a value between 1 and 10, each mineral so the softer, talc, has the lowest hardness index, 1, and diamond, the hardest, 10. The Sapphire is right below the latter, with a value of hardness 9. There are other scales of measurement, like Rosiwal or Knoop, but which deals with them is equivalent to that of the table of Mohs, while their way of evaluating hardness is different.

Sapphire is one of the hardest minerals that exist. Its hardness is only exceeded by the diamond

Sapphire is a form of aluminum oxide crystallized that it can be found in their natural state. According to experts, the best quality comes from the deposits of the India, Burma and Sri Lanka, but can also be found in South America, Africa, Australia and Antarctica. By its chemical properties and the beauty of its gems, Sapphire is commonly used in the manufacture of jewelry and issuing laser. But the oddest thing is that, thanks to its hardness, is also used in industry military to equip armor to vehicles. The problem is that the natural Sapphire is relatively scarce and very expensive, but fortunately, since the end of the 19th century we know how to manufacture it artificially.

«In the rough» Sapphire synthesized from aluminum oxide cylinder

For decades it is possible to synthesize industrially both Sapphire and Ruby (are the two most appreciated forms of corundum, which is the real name of the ore consisting of aluminum oxide), which to some extent solves the problem of scarcity and cost of extraction of the ore in their natural state. However, the manufacture of Sapphire It is still expensive. Even so, the interest in this mineral has aroused in the manufacturers of smartphones in general, and Apple in particular, comes from its hardness.

In theory, a smartphone that has a Sapphire blade placed on the LCD panel would be almost completely immune to shock and scratches. We could let it fall to the floor unless you break, and also put us in a pocket with keys without arañase is the least. In fact, these are the reasons why it is used in military industry. The screens of our smartphones would remain in perfect condition much longer. Perhaps for life. And all without the need to be careful not use shields.

The Big Apple bet

The interest of the company from Cupertino by Sapphire is not recent, really,. Apple introduced it into the iPhone 5 for the first time to protect external rear your smartphone camera lens, and has continued using it on the iPhone 5 c and 5s. But this latest phone also incorporates a Sapphire blade to protect the sensor that allows you to read the fingerprint of the users. With these precedents, and knowing that Apple is interested in Sapphire for several years, it is not surprising that Tim Cook and his collaborators have decided to step forward more and use it to also protect the screen of the smartphone, leaving thus to use Gorilla Glass produced by Corning coverages.

In November of last year, Apple has signed an agreement with GT Advanced Technologies, a manufacturer of Sapphire, whereby this latter company is committed to providing the sheets of this material that the signature of Apple needs to manufacture its upcoming products. Apple initially paid nearly 600 million dollars to GT to give an «initial boost», and also will make available the new plant which at this point should already be built in Arizona. The same Tim Cook confirmed much of this “maneuver” in a meeting with the shareholders of Apple that leaked several weeks ago, and which was endorsed by means of communication with credibility, such as The Guardian or Bloomberg, among others.

Apple first introduced the Sapphire to protect the external lens of the back camera of the iPhone 5

In addition, at the end of the month of February Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Canonical, said that Apple has bought enough Sapphire to dispose of the raw material that allows them to manufacture, at least, 200 million screens between 4.5 and 5 inches. Shuttleworth admitted that his intention was to use that material in the manufacture of your Ubuntu Edge smartphone screen, if your project had come to fruition. As you recall, it failed to raise 32 million needed in the campaign of collective funding that began last year at Kickstarter. But, even if it had succeeded, it would have not been able to use Sapphire on your smartphone. All Apple have it.

Not all are advantages, according to Corning

Although Apple has always preferred to stay aside from the official list of customers of Corning, the US company that manufactures glass Gorilla Glass used today, according to the own Corning, blades in 1,500 million smartphones, It is an open secret that their relationship has been very close. Until now. Everything seems to indicate that the first iPhone with coverage of Sapphire Crystal will soon hit the market, so Corning not only would lose one of its best customers. In addition, it would be forced to consolidate its leadership in this sector to defend its product against the threat posed by the Sapphire.

The reaction of the covers to Gorilla Glass manufacturer has not become expected. Not long since we had the interest of Apple in Sapphire, Corning issued a release in which breaks down the advantages offered by your product front of the Sapphire Crystal. And they have even hung on its web site several videos that shred with detail the greater scratch resistance and pressure of the Crystal Gorilla Glass.

According to Corning, the cost of the plates of Sapphire Crystal is ten times higher of their solution, which has an approximate amount of $3 facing the almost $30 which cost Sapphire (although it is likely to be cheaper when mass production starts). In addition, they ensure that Sapphire is 6% less permeable to the passage of light and that it introduces optical distortions. But this is not all. Gorilla Glass coverage appear to be 67% lighter than the Sapphire of the same thickness, according to Corning, and its production requires only 1% of the energy which is necessary to invest in the manipulation of the Sapphire.

In what concerns to the hardness, based on the evidence of this company the Gorilla Glass crystals they withstand a pressure three top times to the of sapphire crystals. And when they break, they break up, but not burst, something happening in your video Yes with Sapphire Crystal blade. There is no doubt that interested users who say both critics and defenders of the Sapphire. But while the first smartphones with this coverage does not reach the market, and we can do the independent comparative first more prudent is not to take nothing for granted and take all this «clips».

First screens of Sapphire? Maybe in 2014

That Apple will release an iPhone with a coverage of Sapphire is a fact. Patent which the company recorded last September does not hold many doubts in this regard. However, the question is not already if it will come, but when. In Internet there are two clearly distinct movements: those who think that the next iPhone, that it will reach the market in 2014, already incorporate the Sapphire Crystal, and those who defend it still won’t do it, and we’ll have to wait until next year.

You are probably the first Apple products with Sapphire screen your smart watch and iPhone this year or next

Honestly, we do not have evidence that will allow us to go for an option or other clearly because we don’t know the State in which is located the new factory of Apple in Arizona. Even so, what there is no doubt is, at the latest, by 2015 we will have an iPhone with coverage of Sapphire. Moreover, many enthusiasts of the brand ensure that Tim Cook and his team are preparing the iWatch, that smart clock which took months speaking, and that It will also have a Sapphire Crystal. And it is very possible so.

In any case, it is clear that, little by little, when normalizes the process of manufacture of Sapphire blades and reduce its cost, Apple will incorporate it to other products. Meanwhile, we’ll probably only in devices that incorporate demure size screens, such as smart watches and smartphones. Plans for Apple, as we have seen, are quite clear. But, luckily for the users, it is not the only «powerful» manufacturer of smartphones. We will see which way decided to follow its main competitors, such as Samsung, Sony, Nokia, LG or HTC, among others. We expect a pretty exciting months.

Gallery

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