Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Cellphones Iphone Apple Technology

How Apple's Billion Dollar Sapphire Bet Will Pay Off 195

Posted by Soulskill
from the sapphires-now-require-proprietary-connectors dept.
alphadogg writes: "Apple is making a billion dollar bet on sapphire as a strategic material for mobile devices such as the iPhone, iPad and perhaps an iWatch. Exactly what the company plans to do with the scratch-resistant crystal – and when – is still the subject of debate. Apple is creating its own supply chain devoted to producing and finishing synthetic sapphire crystal in unprecedented quantities. The new Mesa, Arizona plant, in a partnership with sapphire furnace maker GT Advanced Technologies, will make Apple one of the world's largest sapphire producers when it reaches full capacity, probably in late 2014. By doing so, Apple is assured of a very large amount of sapphire and insulates itself from the ups and downs of sapphire material pricing in the global market."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

How Apple's Billion Dollar Sapphire Bet Will Pay Off

Comments Filter:
  • by Psyko (69453)

    The only thing it's hurting is the other people looking for sapphire display covers like was mentioned a couple months back.

    Personally, I'm on the Gorilla Glass [corninggorillaglass.com] bandwagon.
    It's:
    Stronger
    Stronger
    Cheaper & faster to produce

    apple can pretty much do what it wants and they have plenty of money so it's not like it's a gamble at this point. $1bn is not going to dent their bank.

    I own a couple of their devic

    • Re:Well. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by catmistake (814204) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @08:27PM (#46819453) Journal

      The only thing it's hurting is the other people looking for sapphire display covers like was mentioned a couple months back.

      Personally, I'm on the Gorilla Glass [corninggorillaglass.com] bandwagon. It's: Stronger Stronger Cheaper & faster to produce

      apple can pretty much do what it wants and they have plenty of money so it's not like it's a gamble at this point. $1bn is not going to dent their bank.

      I own a couple of their devices, but I've personally relegated them down to be things I don't even carry around, and the interface always makes me feel like I'm using one of those kid's toy computers that has like 6 buttons with pictures on them (the cow says Mooooo).

      I to am on the Gorilla Glass bandwagon as well, and a big big fan of Corning. But Gorilla Glass is under patent. Synthetic Sapphire has been around since 1902, and it was cheap back then. Sapphire is hard... 9 on the Mohs scale, and the only substance harder is natural and synthetic diamond. I find it difficult to believe... so...do you have any references that says Gorilla Glass is cheaper and harder than Sapphire?

      • Re:Well. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by NoKaOi (1415755) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @08:49PM (#46819551)

        I find it difficult to believe... so...do you have any references that says Gorilla Glass is cheaper and harder than Sapphire?

        Even Corning's own website doesn't say outright that Gorilla Glass is stronger. Only that:

        Sapphire's performance as a cover for high-end watches probably leads to the current speculation. But those covers are much smaller than a mobile phone and are two to three times thicker than Gorilla Glass. In one of our commonly accepted strength tests, sapphire breaks more easily than Gorilla Glass after the same simulated use. Additionally, sapphire’s cost and environmental hit are huge issues.

        Notice how they totally weasel around and, and only in "one of our commonly accepted strength tests" did Gorilla Glass outperform sapphire? So do they only have one test, or did sapphire outperform Gorilla Glass in all the others?

        The real question is: Which is more likely to break in real life? That probably depends on how you test it. The best test would be to give a bunch of iPhones to a statistically significant set of teenagers and see how many screens of each are still intact after a while.

        Also, there is some speculation on several different sites that Apple may not intend to use sapphire for the screen, but instead for the camera lens. They currently use it on the camera lens and the home button. I wonder if it's something they could use in other things that don't currently use Gorilla Glass, like macbook screens?

        • Also, there is some speculation on several different sites that Apple may not intend to use sapphire for the screen, but instead for the camera lens. They currently use it on the camera lens and the home button.

          That (external) speculation sounds kind if silly... considering there are lots of other teeny tiny parts in iOS devices that the cost of which probably is more volitile and fluctuates more than the price of synthetic sapphire. So for a billion dollars, it seems like an investment that would take decades to pay for itself.

          I wonder if it's something they could use in other things that don't currently use Gorilla Glass, like macbook screens?

          That is interesting, and would absolutely justify a billion dollar investment if that is their intention, because they would need a metric shitton of sapphire to pull that off. My guess i

        • Re:Well. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by ceoyoyo (59147) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @10:57PM (#46820079)

          Sapphire is almost certainly more scratch resistant, because it's harder. Gorilla glass may well be less likely to break, since it's not as hard. Scratch and break resistance are usually difficult to get together. You're right, the real question is, in the real world, which is the more important property? Are scratches or breaks more common? Can other design features mitigate scratches or breaks more effectively?

          I would think some rubber buffer around the glass could be used to add a lot of break resistance. Other than putting a film over the screen, scratches are pretty hard to prevent without making the surface itself more resistant.

          • by vux984 (928602)

            I would think some rubber buffer around the glass could be used to add a lot of break resistance.

            rubber doesn't really go with apple's metal and glass stylistic sensibilities.

            Are scratches or breaks more common?

            I've seen tons of broken screens even as recently as last week. I can't honestly say I've seen any scratched ones in the last few yers.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by Anonymous Coward

              I would think some rubber buffer around the glass could be used to add a lot of break resistance.

              rubber doesn't really go with apple's metal and glass stylistic sensibilities.

              You just don't get the same sensation with that rubber buffer around your...oh wait, sorry, wrong forum.

          • There's already a thin rubber buffer between the glass and the case. It was there in the original iPhone and as far as I can see it's still there in the 5.
      • Re:Well. (Score:5, Informative)

        by Seraphim1982 (813899) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @08:49PM (#46819553)

        Sapphire is hard... 9 on the Mohs scale, and the only substance harder is natural and synthetic diamond.

        Lots of things are harder then Sapphire, particularly carbides and borides. Examples include silicon carbide, titanium carbide, boron (the hardest element) boron carbide, and boron nitride.

        I find it difficult to believe... so...do you have any references that says Gorilla Glass is cheaper and harder than Sapphire?

        No one ever said it was harder, they said it was stronger.

        • Re:Well. (Score:5, Informative)

          by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @08:58PM (#46819595) Journal

          silicon carbide, titanium carbide, boron (the hardest element) boron carbide, and boron nitride.

          All of which would make a really crappy screen cover.

          • by MrNemesis (587188)

            Silicon carbide at least has potential; there's a synthetic polymorph of it called Moissanite [wikipedia.org] that's transparent, harder (9.5 vs. 9) and stronger than sapphire/corundum. I imagine it costs a shedload more to make than sapphire glass however.

          • However their lack of transparency would certainly improve security.

        • Re:Well. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by lgw (121541) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @10:05PM (#46819885) Journal

          Gorilla glass cracks anyway. First time I drop a phone, there goes the glass. But it also scratches. It's far softer than sand, so in arid areas the grit that gets everywhere can scratch your phone in your pocket. Sapphire at least has that going for it - there's little in everyday life that can scratch it.

      • Re:Well. (Score:4, Informative)

        by arth1 (260657) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @08:50PM (#46819555) Homepage Journal

        I to am on the Gorilla Glass bandwagon as well, and a big big fan of Corning. But Gorilla Glass is under patent. Synthetic Sapphire has been around since 1902, and it was cheap back then. Sapphire is hard... 9 on the Mohs scale, and the only substance harder is natural and synthetic diamond. I find it difficult to believe... so...do you have any references that says Gorilla Glass is cheaper and harder than Sapphire?

        I'm not the parent poster, but here's a ref [parts-people.com] claiming that Gorilla Glass is indeed both cheaper and far weaker than sapphire.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by lgw (121541)

          Why do expensive watches have sapphire crystals? Well, sapphire has advantages, but mostly because those watches are jewelry that happen to tell time.

          Why will iPhones have sapphire screens? Because they are jewelry that happen to make phone calls. If you see Apple products as fashion accessories first, then sapphire screens are a brilliant idea.

          • Re:Well. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by ceoyoyo (59147) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @11:03PM (#46820111)

            Really? You got modded up for that?

            Expensive watches have sapphire faces because sapphire is one of the hardest materials that can be made into a thin, transparent sheet for a reasonable price. That makes it very scratch resistant. It's not bling, it's very practical.

            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward

              I have a $150 watch that has a sapphire crystal and titanium case. The watch case is significantly scratched and the crystal is not scratched at all. Definitely not bling and definitely practical. And not expensive (the replacement cost of the crystal is $50).

          • Not just jewelry (Score:3, Informative)

            by AlKaMo (106874)

            One of the largest uses for artificial sapphire is supermarket barcode scanners. No one's putting it there because they feel a need to bling-out the supermarket. It's there because any surface that has stuff dragged across it all day, every day either needs to be incredible scratch-resistant or replaced way too often.

      • Re:Well. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @08:51PM (#46819559)

        Sapphire is indeed harder than Gorilla Glass, whether you are talking about scratch hardness (the Mohs scale) or indentation hardness (the Vickers scale). There isn't an exact value for the scratch hardness of Gorilla Glass but it seems that people are easily able to scratch it with sandpaper, granite, or whatever, whereas you really cannot scratch sapphire with anything less than corundum/diamond.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          You realize sandpaper grit *is* corundum, right?

      • by Guspaz (556486)

        From TFA, Gorilla Glass reportedly costs about $10 per display when Apple first started using it (on the original iPhone), with prices eventually dropping to about $3 today. Sapphire is expected to cost about $20 after all is said and done. It'll come down, certainly, but it's definitely not cheaper.

        As for being tougher, my understanding is that it's far more scratch resistant than gorilla glass, but not necessarily as shatter resistant.

        • As for being tougher, my understanding is that it's far more scratch resistant than gorilla glass, but not necessarily as shatter resistant.

          fyi, scratch resistence is also a measure of shatter resistence, so if a substance is more scratch resistant than another, it is also more shatter resistant, at least that's what I just read in an articled about sapphire linked from somewhere else in this thread.

          • by Mr0bvious (968303)

            I'm certainly no materials expert but anecdotal evidence does not support your hypothesis.

            Most plastic is less scratch resistant than most glass. Most glass is less shatter resistant than most plastics.

            Therefore I conclude that: scratch resistance != measure of shatter resistence.

          • Looks like scratch resistence != shatter resistence.

            Secondly, it means overcoming a surprising problem: despite its hardness, synthetic sapphire can be prone to fracturing, at almost any point in this finishing process, due to impurities or to the presence of unresolved strains in the crystalline structure.

            “That’s something that’s being very carefully measured and tested,” says Stone-Sunderberg. “Fracturing is probably of the highest concern. If a product is released with a more expensive touch screen [cover] and consumers experience fracturing, they’re going to be highly disappointed. It would be devastating to the sapphire industry.”

            Also, the tensile strength of regular glass (which varies considerably however) can match that of synthetic sapphire. Sapphire has very good compression stength though.
            This is the reason for steel reinforced concrete. You can't easily compress concrete but you can pull it apart pretty easily. If you add steel with its good tensile strength, you get a strong material that excels in both areas.

            Apple will need to do something with the sapphire or it will shat

            • Fair enough! It didn't sound right to me either... but I was sure I had just read something to that effect minutes before I posted.
              • by fnj (64210)

                This is just speculation, but the source might have been referring to fracture mechanics. Fracture begins more easily when there is a surface imperfection. That's why you can cut glass with precision by scoring the surface and tapping it in such a way as to put the scored face under tension. And if you have a pit or scratch on the surface of either glass or sapphire, that will become a stress concentration when you put it under strain, and that is where the fracture will begin.

                That's also incidentally why c

          • by fnj (64210)

            fyi, scratch resistence is also a measure of shatter resistence, so if a substance is more scratch resistant than another, it is also more shatter resistant, at least that's what I just read

            Nope. Sorry. Read better sources. Scratch resistance is governed by surface hardness. Shatter resistance is governed by toughness. Hardness and toughness are the classic opposed desirables in materials science. Sure, you can play games in certain materials with surface hardness, so the surface is very hard and the underl

        • So.. vapor deposit a layer of sapphire on top of the gorilla glass and call it a day....

          • by Guspaz (556486)

            Corning owns Gorilla Glass, though, so that wouldn't help Apple increase their vertical integration. TFA does mention that there is work in that direction going on, though.

      • and the only substance harder is natural and synthetic diamond.

        I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but there are substances haeder than corundum yet softer than diamond. SiC and BN come to mind

      • by maliqua (1316471)

        Sapphire is hard... 9 on the Mohs scale, and the only substance harder is natural and synthetic diamond. I find it difficult to believe... so...do you have any references that says Gorilla Glass is cheaper and harder than Sapphire?

        he said it was stronger not harder, very different things. things that are harder on the Mohs scale are more likely to shatter than things lower on the scale, hardness is not the only factor that determines the durability of a material .

      • by Khyber (864651)

        "Sapphire is hard... 9 on the Mohs scale, and the only substance harder is natural and synthetic diamond"

        Not even close. Boron is harder. Tungsten is harder with a Vicker's maximum of 2400, Sapphire 2300. Sapphires won't scratch my pure tungsten ring.

        "and the only substance harder is natural and synthetic diamond. I find it difficult to believe..."

        Well, given your lacking education on material hardness, not a surprise you can't believe.

    • Yea, besides the fact that these displays are notorious for breaking easily (in comparison to Gorilla Glass displays on Android phones), in gen 4, Apple had the brilliant idea of putting glass on the back of the phone as well, doubling your chance of breaking something if you dropped your phone.

      I don't know anyone who didn't have their iPhone wrapped in a case, just for that reason. In comparison, my RAZR Maxx has never needed a case because the backing is rubberized composite and there is a durable bevel a
  • by BenJeremy (181303) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @08:24PM (#46819433)

    ...transparent aluminum! Clearly, Apple hates Star Trek.

  • Anyone else notice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rsilvergun (571051) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @09:01PM (#46819613)
    that you can go from jack squat to worlds largest producer in a few years? I'm not saying they aren't gonna do it, I'm just saying it's crazy how fast their doing it. 50 years ago this would be a massive undertaking with a whole town built up around it. Now? I think the factory's gonna have a couple hundred employees. It's just nuts how few people you need in manufacturing anymore...
  • by aXis100 (690904) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @09:26PM (#46819721)

    How about they just design a phone that doesn't shatter when you drop it? Having the glass right to the edges might look nice but it's completely unpractical from a robustness point of view. Apple are just fashion victims.

    My motorola Defy+ has a thin plastic bezel that doesnt degrade its appearance yet absorbs those nasty corner shocks. Simple design to solve a common problem and doesnt require building an expensive saphire factory.

    • by plover (150551)

      But it's ... it's not ... cool.

      Apparently what is cool is to buy a gaudy plastic band to wrap around the edge to make up for this design defect, then bedazzle the shit out of it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ebno-10db (1459097)

      Hear, hear!

      It seems like most of the IPhones I see have broken screens, but other phones only rarely. It's just a shitty design. Excuse me, I now have to go underground before the Apple fanboys catch up with me.

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        That's because the other phones don't continue to function after their screens get broken. :P

        I've actually broken a couple of iPhone screens. They seem to survive the corner and edge drops just fine, but the face down drops onto concrete or an uneven stone floor breaks the screen. Still works fine though, which is impressive.

        • by Cyberax (705495)
          They do. I once cracked a Galaxy S3 - it fell from about 2 meters. Screen was cracked and a couple of pieces fell out, yet it worked just fine.
      • by GauteL (29207) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @03:32AM (#46820901)

        It seems like most of the IPhones I see have broken screens, but other phones only rarely.

        I'll counter your anecdote with one of my own. I've seen dozens of iPhones in the hands of friends and co-workers. Only one of them ever had broken glass (the back panel) and that was in the hands of one of the biggest drunks I've ever known.

        You simply only notice what you want to notice.

      • It seems like most of the IPhones I see have broken screens, but other phones only rarely. It's just a shitty design. Excuse me, I now have to go underground before the Apple fanboys catch up with me.

        So here is the meme that iPhones often have broken screens. There is the other meme that people throw away their iPhones for the slightest reason and buy a new one. Clearly, both memes are contradicting each other. If people keep iPhones with broken screens, then clearly these iPhones haven't been thrown away.

        What actually seems to happen is that iPhone screens sometimes break, just like other screens, but you'll always find someone who is happy taking an iPhone with a broken screen. Which indicates to m

    • by GrahamCox (741991) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @10:05PM (#46819881) Homepage
      How about they just design a phone that doesn't shatter when you drop it?

      Yeah, they could, I dunno, make a harder kind of glass that doesn't shatter. Sounds familiar.

      The point is that the Motorola design might be a cheaper solution, bit the phone simply looks shittier. Some people, presumably yourself, don't care about that, but plenty of others do. It's the sort of thing that makes a Mercedes a Mercedes, and a Lexus a not-quite-right knock off of the same thing.
      • by Solandri (704621) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @04:26AM (#46821079)
        Funny that you should bring up a car analogy. In the 1940s and 1950s, as cars began to get faster, more people started dying in accidents. As a result, manufacturers started building the car bodies to be stronger and more rigid. Of course when we started doing systematic crash testing in the 1960s and 1970s, we found out that this was absolutely the worst possible thing they could have done. With a rigid body, the entire force the impact is transferred to the occupants. The car stops immediately, while the passengers keep going... until they hit the front of the car at full speed. The better solution was to design a strong passenger compartment and belt the occupants to it, while the rest of the car was designed to deform and shatter to lengthen deceleration times (decreasing peak acceleration forces) and dissipate energy. Which is actually what a phone with a plastic body and a metal internal frame does.

        Anyhow, I think Samsung and LG are on the right track here. The electronics inside a phone can survive several hundred Gs (you can literally shoot them out of a cannon with little ill effect). The only fragile part is the glass screen. So both companies are working hard to develop flexible screens. The only remaining issue would then be scratching the screen; but most people seem content to put a cheap plastic protector on their screen to ward off scratches.
        • A flexible screen would let you get away from gluing the touch sensor and panel together, which would let you replace the touch sensor (which is cheap) whenever it got damaged.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      iPhone glass doesn't go all the way to the edge. The metal ring around the iPhone is the edge, and it absorbs nasty corner shocks just fine. SquareTrade, whose job it is to keep up on this shit (since they pay out the insurance claims) consistently rates the iPhone as less breakable than its Android counterparts.
    • by iroll (717924)

      My NexusS has a plastic bezel and it shattered from a 2-ft drop onto a faux-wood (read: not that hard) surface.

      Because our anti-anecdotes would annihilate each other in a flash of light, you're going to have to come up with a better line of reasoning.

  • Sapphire has a lot of uses besides the purely cosmetic - Perhaps the worlds biggest electronics innovator actually is targeting a future electronics requirement - Better RF, better sensors
  • Oops, it reflect purple beams of light in a different direction. There goes a billion. Maybe they should have tried a prototype. Oh well, they can always lie about it and blame the user.
  • They're making phonograph needles...

  • It's about time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @10:40PM (#46820021) Homepage

    It's surprising that Apple didn't do this a long time ago. Checkout scanners have had sapphire-coated glass for a decade or more. I pointed this out a few years ago, and the Apple fanboys immediately replied that Gorilla Glass was good enough and sapphire was unnecessary.

    It's embarassing how fragile Apple's mobile products are. But this, at least, will stop screens from being scratched by coins and keys. You can drag canned goods across a sapphire coated supermarket checkout scanner glass for a decade without much effect. Home Depot self-checkout scanners have sapphire coated glass, and they get everything in the tool department dragged across them.

    • It's surprising that Apple didn't do this a long time ago.

      It's not if you read the article and know more about the costs Sapphire have traditionally added.

      It's embarassing how fragile Apple's mobile products are.

      You mean, the ones that use the same Gorilla Glass everyone else is using?

      Sapphire does sound nice, but you are selling Gorilla Glass way short. It can take a lot of pounding, and I haven't had keys (or anything else) be able to scratch the display in years. I recall a model of the iPhone a few ye

      • Now thinking about it, I don't recall seeing an iphone (or gorilla glass equipped phone) with screen scratches. Yes, there most probably are there, but they are not visible in day to day operation which I think is all that matters.

        Of course, what everyone sees is a lot of phones with cracked glass.

        And as we all know, sapphire crystal glass on watches is more fragile than on the ones with mineral glass. Sapphire is more clear so the dials look nicer and it is less scratched though. But I haven't seen a watch

    • It's surprising that Apple didn't do this a long time ago. Checkout scanners have had sapphire-coated glass for a decade or more. I pointed this out a few years ago, and the Apple fanboys immediately replied that Gorilla Glass was good enough and sapphire was unnecessary.

      Here's another example how Apple is often accused of two exactly diametrical faults. You accuse them of using cheap Gorilla Glass which isn't good enough according to you and say they should have switched to Sapphire glass ages ago, while the whole thread started with others saying how stupid it is of Apple to use Sapphire glass, when Gorilla glass is much better.

      Guys, can you make up your minds, please?

  • iWatch anyone?

  • Substrates (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grrrl (110084) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @11:05PM (#46820119)

    Sapphire is not just for external materials, it is also a commonly used substrate for growth of various semiconductors for a range of devices (main substrate for GaN (blue LEDs), silicon on sapphire (SOS) tech). There are many reasons to use it as a substrate (transparent, radiation resistant, excellent thermal conductivity but low electrical conductivity) though some disadvantages which have largely been accounted for (poor lattice match to Si, GaN).

    We used to get GaN grown on piddly little 2" sapphire wafers, which were themselves to start with hideously expensive. Growing on larger sapphire wafers is very interesting (think of how most production fabs are geared for 12" Si wafers).

    Before you know it you may also find internal components made from material grown on sapphire made by Apple in Apple products.

  • What happens when I poke at the device beneath? [Full disclosure, I won an iPad and used it long enough for it to piss me off, but realize a tablet was cool. I gave the iPad to someone who appreciated it, and bought an Android tablet...]
  • Joanna Lumley and David McCallum. Yes the new iPhone 6 will have a steel case too.
  • Apple is caught between their high-margin strategy and falling market share. The 5s/5c was a first try to do something but those were too similar to each other. Making the 5c cheaper would have eaten into the margins too much and making it crappier would have made it too crappy. So they have to make the "premium" version more premium and the budget version more different so it isn't just a cheaper iPhone.

    I guess the 6s will have a sapphire screen, a 4.7" display with minimal bezels, an aluminum/ceramic cas

  • I wish they'd start calling it transparent aluminum. Then we could all be living in a world with technology from the future.

"What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying." -- Nikita Khrushchev

Working...