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

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."
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How Apple's Billion Dollar Sapphire Bet Will Pay Off

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  • 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 [] 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... 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... 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?

  • 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.

  • 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 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • by Plumpaquatsch ( 2701653 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @08:35AM (#46822019) Journal

    Sapphire is *not* the second hardest material known. Yes, it's written in the linked article, but it is also definitely wrong.

    Maybe they mean second hardest transparent material - which is kind of important for displays.

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