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Iphone Upgrades Apple Technology

Sapphire Glass Didn't Pass iPhone Drop Test According to Reports 207

SternisheFan notes reports about why Apple didn't use sapphire glass screens in the latest iPhones as many expected. Sapphire screens were part of the iPhone 6 design until the glass repeatedly cracked during standard drop tests conducted by Apple suppliers. So Apple abandoned its sapphire plans before the iPhone 6 product launch September 9. VentureBeat has learned that recent supplier channel checks by an IDC analyst yielded several reports of the sapphire failures and Apple's decision against using the glass material. As we heard on Tuesday in Cupertino, both the iPhone 6 and the larger iPhone 6 Plus will ship with screens made of "ion-strengthened" glass. This was apparently Apple's second choice. IDC analyst Danielle Levitas says it isn't clear when exactly the drop-test failures took place, or when Apple abandoned plans for sapphire-screened iPhones. She says the poor drop-test results, combined with the relative high cost of sapphire glass, could have made plans to ship sapphire glass phones too risky. One researcher who covers GT Advanced Technologies, the company that was to produce the glass for the iPhone 6, wrote in a research note earlier this week that plans for the sapphire screens were cancelled in August, just weeks before the September 9 launch. The new Apple Watches (except the "Sport" version) do use sapphire for their screens. Levitas believes that the glass for the smaller 1.5-inch and 1.7-inch watch screens was less likely to break in drop tests.
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Sapphire Glass Didn't Pass iPhone Drop Test According to Reports

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  • by zr ( 19885 ) on Sunday September 14, 2014 @02:04PM (#47903121)

    ..might simply have been not appreciably better than glass alternatives.

    if true (this sounds like speculation) kudos apple for not releasing something just because they could.

    • ... but it WAS worse. It broke easier when dropped. And EVERYONE drops their phone at one point or another.

      When a visibly peeved Apple rep was asked for comment, they said "We found we couldn't drop it, so we dropped it. Now can you drop it?"

      • by zr ( 19885 )

        it was _per reporting_. reality is unknown as yet. it may be due to a known cause, both in how sapphire is manufactured or how its used.

        it may also be complete baloney. we just don't know.

    • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Sunday September 14, 2014 @04:09PM (#47903699)

      ..might simply have been not appreciably better than glass alternatives.

      if true (this sounds like speculation) kudos apple for not releasing something just because they could.

      Or it could have been stronger, just not in Apples application. The shape of the phone and/or the mounting may have caused the glass to flex in such a way that it shattered easier. I suspect this leak was intentional, and Apple is trying to target the technology so other phones can't use it as a selling point by saying "Look, we have stronger glass than apple!"

    • Or it could have been too expensive and Apple decided that secret failed drop tests forced them to gallantly abandon the project in favor of the cheaper alternative.

    • by sl149q ( 1537343 ) on Sunday September 14, 2014 @06:19PM (#47904317)

      So if the referenced article is to be believed...

      Sometime early in August Apple decided to to with ion strengthened glass for the new iPhone 6 models. They then cancelled the orders for sapphire screens and did what... with only six weeks to go before launch, probably several weeks into full production, they placed an order for 10 million or so screens? Its not like you can phone Digikey and ask for 10 million screens and please have them here in 24 hours please and thank.

      Any decision about screens was made many months ago so that the Ion Screen manufacturer would have sufficient time to make them and ship them prior to when the iPhone 6's production needed to start. And initial production was probably in June.

      So more likely March or April.

      • They won't be shipping for at least 4 weeks from the iPhone 6 announcement, 8+ weeks is plenty of time to fill a certain amount of orders, glass is one of the last parts that get installed.
  • Ion strengthened? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Megol ( 3135005 ) on Sunday September 14, 2014 @02:05PM (#47903125)

    Isn't that what standard hardened glass is?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by zr ( 19885 )

      even apple doesnt have enough fly swatters to get rid of all the marketspeak..

    • Re:Ion strengthened? (Score:5, Informative)

      by SternisheFan ( 2529412 ) on Sunday September 14, 2014 @02:21PM (#47903221)
      'Ion-Strengthened' is Gorilla Glass: http://www.forbes.com/sites/gr... [forbes.com]

      CNET also covers this well, noting SapphireGlass costs $30 per unit versus $3 for Gorilla Glass. From the CNET article...

      Corning, which has repeatedly criticized the use of sapphire as a mobile-device display, says its testing found that though sapphire is harder to scratch than its Gorilla Glass, daily use of a sapphire display will produce tiny cracks in the material. Those cracks can easily proliferate and cause the display to break more easily over time than Gorilla Glass. As a major manufacturer of industrial crystals, Corning should know a thing or two about sapphire. It used to make tubes of it for high-temperature lighting during the 1960s and 1970s, according to Jeffrey Evenson, Corning's operations chief of staff.

      "As material guys, we think Gorilla has a lot more potential," Evenson said, who added that glass is much easier to manipulate into different forms, such as with the rounded Gorilla Glass display of the new Samsung Note Edge smartphone.

      http://www.cnet.com/news/why-t... [cnet.com]

      • Re:Ion strengthened? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by SpinyNorman ( 33776 ) on Sunday September 14, 2014 @04:45PM (#47903875)

        Apple's Ion Strengthened Glass (which, confusingly, they call Ion-X Glass on the Apple Watch) might be Gorilla Glass, but could also be Ashai Glass's Draontrail-X Glass which is similarly ion strengthened or maybe a new product from a different manufacturer.

      • Is that $3 to replace a scratched screen, including all the AR coatings? At that price they might as well include three spare glass plates with every phone in case you scratch one.

        As far as the rounded glass: I had a Nexus 3 with a curved screen and it was a good idea -- wish they still did that more.

        • Is that $3 to replace a scratched screen, including all the AR coatings? At that price they might as well include three spare glass plates with every phone in case you scratch one.

          As far as the rounded glass: I had a Nexus 3 with a curved screen and it was a good idea -- wish they still did that more.

          $3 is the manufacturer's cost to phone makers, in Manhattan's Chinatown you can have glass replaced with (possibly inferior, standard) glass for $30-$70. Apple store would just replace the phone for glass replacement cost if not under warranty. If Apple is using GorillaGlass (tm) then it would probably be the best of the 3 versions Corning presently makes, though the glass maker of the 'ion-strengthened' glass might be an overseas, Asian manufacturer.

        • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

          Is that $3 to replace a scratched screen, including all the AR coatings? At that price they might as well include three spare glass plates with every phone in case you scratch one.

          That's the cost of the glass plate. (Note: Traditionally the iPhone uses Gorilla Glass, but for some reason I don't know why Apple and Corning couldn't come to a marketing arrangement. Probably because Apple traditionally doesn't hype up the products of its suppliers - so it may be Gorilla Glass, but Apple will never use the term)

          • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

            Because if you say the iPhone comes with Gorilla Glass, you've locked yourself into a single supplier of a trademarked item. If you just say ion-strengthened glass, you can use any supplier that can meet your requirements, not just Corning.

    • Re:Ion strengthened? (Score:5, Informative)

      by ELCouz ( 1338259 ) on Sunday September 14, 2014 @02:28PM (#47903249)
      No, regular hardened glass is tempered by quenching (heated in a furnace around 700C then quenched by rapid cooling)
      Disclamer: I work in a glass factory.
      • by Megol ( 3135005 )

        Ah true - I was thinking of chemically strengthened glass.

    • by goldcd ( 587052 )
      This is iOn strengthened
    • by TeknoHog ( 164938 ) on Sunday September 14, 2014 @04:06PM (#47903687) Homepage Journal
      Regular glass doesn't contain any ions, in the same way that regular vegetables don't contain any genes.
    • No, when it's an Apple product it is strengthened by iOns.

  • Non story (Score:2, Informative)

    Company tries two things, chooses the one that is better. News at 11.
    • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

      Company tries two things, chooses the one that is better. News at 11.

      Nope ..

      News at 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 AND 11 .. plus at 6AM, 7AM and 9AM there's a recap of the previous days related rumors and stories.

      And I say this typing on a MacBook with an iMac to my right, my iPad downstairs, my Nano in my gym bag and my iPod touch in a drawer.

    • This may have been a large $$$ loss for Apple, the company has bet big on Sapphire Glass. Previous /. article, how-apples-billion-dollar-sapphire-bet-will-pay-off http://apple.slashdot.org/stor... [slashdot.org]
      • Re:Non story (Score:5, Interesting)

        by SternisheFan ( 2529412 ) on Sunday September 14, 2014 @02:38PM (#47903317)
        From the linked older NetworkWorld story, Apr 22, 2014 ...

        Apple is creating its own supply chain devoted to producing and finishing synthetic sapphire crystal in unprecedented quantities. The new Mesa, Ariz., plant, in a partnership with sapphire furnace maker GT Advanced Technologies (GTAT) of Merrimack, N.H., 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.

        In keeping with long-standing practice, Apple has never publicly discussed the Arizona project or what it intends to do with such a vast amount of sapphire material. Rumors and more or less informed speculation have flourished in that silence.

        The Arizona project was revealed in November, with Apple paying $578 million for GTAT to install and run its advanced sapphire growth furnaces in a plant built and owned by Apple. The news triggered a frenzy of speculation that Apple planned to use sapphire crystal sheets to replace the glass currently used in touch displays for its 2014 iPhones, iPads or a new line of “wearables” such as the long-rumored iWatch, or all of the above.

        That’s only the tip of Apple’s investment. Once the 253-pound “hockey puck” shaped sapphire boules emerge from the furnaces, they’ll be shipped to Apple’s supply chain partners in Asia, including Biel Crystal Manufactory and Lens One Technology Co., for slicing, polishing, laser cutting, coating and eventual assembly.

        But to do all this, these companies, and Apple, will have to invest heavily in new equipment that can handle sapphire, since only diamond is harder, and handle it in the quantities that Apple will produce. That’s not a simple process.

        Natural sapphire is a gemstone variety of the mineral corundum, a crystalline form of aluminum oxide. Corundum is colorless, but in natural sapphires, various impurities create a range of colors: chromium makes the gem red, becoming a ruby; iron and titanium create the prized cornflower blue of a true sapphire.

        Synthetic sapphire is colorless, unless deliberately colored. GTAT’s ASF uses a variation of what’s called the Czochralski process, combining the melting of aluminum oxide, a seed sapphire crystal, and heat extraction to crystalize the alumina melt. [For more details, see the accompanying slideshow: “Why Apple’s sapphire plan is as hard as the mineral itself”] Like natural sapphire, the synthetic is incredibly hard and that hardness creates challenges for using it.

        “When the [sapphire] area is larger, with the increased hardness, it takes more aggressive abrasives to grind and polish it,” says Jennifer Stone-Sunderberg, who has a Ph.D. in solid state chemistry and crystal growth, and now consults in this field as a managing director of Crystal Solutions of Portland, Ore. “It’s time-consuming to polish something that hard.”

        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.”

        Tackling these issues on this scale and schedule has never been attempted before.

        “GTAT and the rest of the Apple supply chain involved in this new sapphire component indeed have to execute an unprecedented - for the sapphire industry - r

      • Doesn't mean they'll lose money. It's still a factory producing products they can sell to companies. They can still sell the company too.
        Even if it does lose them money, it'll let them move more of their overseas cash in tax-free.

        • Couldn't Sapphire Glass still be used in phones, just by encasing it in a rubber gasket to absorb shocks?
          • Brilliant! Apple fanboys will call it a feature. Hidden screen smartphones.

            • Brilliant! Apple fanboys will call it a feature. Hidden screen smartphones.

              Not the whole screen! Just a rubber/silicone gasket around the edges.

              • You realize that screens already don't break unless they land screen side down on something pointed?

                • You realize that screens already don't break unless they land screen side down on something pointed?

                  Micro-fracturing of SapphireGlass is the problem. Small cracks develop from the slight twisting of the phone's body due to it's extra hardness, which leads to full cracking of the glass. So a gasket to compensate for that stress seems to be needed, in my humble opinion.

          • That could make the screen easily removable, making it economical to repair a damaged phone without specialised tools.

            That would impact on sales.

      • why is it that people are so eager to celebrate when they see something as a failure for apple? is it because they have never had success in their lives?
      • They're using sapphire in the Touch ID sensor, the rear camera and the apple watch.

        It's not even close to a loss.

        • They're using sapphire in the Touch ID sensor, the rear camera and the apple watch.

          It's not even close to a loss.

          And for the iWatch. I'm sure that the entire intent of building the $500 million sapphire plant meant Apple planned for the phone/tablets future glass to be all SapphireGlass. But then, Apple isn't known for admitting mistakes, bad for the investors bottom line, don't you know.

  • by ZipK ( 1051658 ) on Sunday September 14, 2014 @02:25PM (#47903239)

    Levitas believes that the glass for the smaller 1.5-inch and 1.7-inch watch screens was less likely to break in drop tests.

    Watches are less likely to be dropped than phones, making scratch resistance a higher priority.

  • Why would they use that? Other than snob appeal.

    • Re:Sapphire glass? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 14, 2014 @02:52PM (#47903399)
      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.
  • I swear by sapphire glass for watches (which have been using it even for midtier models for ages) as it's incredibly scratch resistant, but I didn't think that necessarily translates to shatter resistant. I am curious though in terms of scratch resistance how sapphire crystal compares to gorilla glass (and similar products).

    • by Luckyo ( 1726890 )

      It's the exact opposite. "Shattering" is a catastrophic structural failure, where object could no longer bend sufficiently and didn't have enough strength to withstand the force applied to it.

      As a result, typically being "hard" results in being "fragile", whereas being "soft" results in being "hard to shatter". Hardened plastic used on older phones for example would scratch up easily but was very difficult to shatter, whereas modern gorilla glass is very hard to scratch, but shatters easily.

      Sapphire, being

  • ... transparent aluminum.

  • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Sunday September 14, 2014 @03:04PM (#47903441)
    But at least they weren't scratched!
  • by SternisheFan ( 2529412 ) on Sunday September 14, 2014 @03:05PM (#47903449)
    How Gorilla Glass Is Made

    The glass consists of a thin sheet of alkali-aluminosilicate. Gorilla Glass is strengthened using an ion-exchange process which forces large ions into the spaces between molecules on the glass surface. Specifically, glass is placed in a 400C molten potassium salt bath, which forces potassium ions to replace the sodium ions originally in the glass. The larger potassium ions take up more space between the other atoms in the glass. As the glass cools, the crunched-together atoms produce a high level of compressive stress in the glass that helps protect the surface from mechanical damage.

    http://chemistry.about.com/od/... [about.com]

    How Sapphire Glass is made...

    http://www.businessinsider.com... [businessinsider.com]

  • the glass repeatedly cracked during standard drop tests conducted by Apple suppliers.

    shouldn't Apple be drop testing these?

    i'm sure Apple does it's own testing, but if suppliers regularly have to do stuff like this it really makes me wonder what factors they test for

    reminds me of this story about xbox one controller R&D [venturebeat.com]

    in the middle of the article, you see the actual R&D testing of the new controller designs, all in grey

    now, for anyone who has ever played video games, **especially gamers**...the ide

  • Everybody who gets an iPhone immediately puts it into a rugged, generally rubberized, case. All smartphones tend to be fragile, and the naked iPhone is slippery. Cases not only protect against damage, but prevent most drops from happening in the first place. An iPhone in a rubbery OtterBox is not going to slip out of your shirt pocket into the toilet.

  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Sunday September 14, 2014 @03:56PM (#47903653)
    Back in the 1920s-1940s as cars became more popular, more people started dying in car crashes. In response, the auto manufacturers did the obvious thing and started making the cars stronger and stronger. And people kept dying.

    It wasn't until the 1950s when the first controlled crash tests were done, that they discovered that the stronger car bodies were the worst possible thing you could do. They did nothing to reduce the kinetic energy of the occupants before impact. The car would hit, the strong body would stop moving almost instantly, and the occupants would keep flying forward at full speed until they hit the front of the car. This is what led to the crumple zones we have today - where the car body deliberately flexes and deforms to absorb crash energy, lessening the impact forces on the occupants.

    I think phones are going to go the same way. Rather than build the bodies and faces stronger and stronger to try to make them survive drops, they're going to be replaced with flexible screens once those come down in price and become commonplace. Bend and flex to absorb the impact energy, not try to stiffly resist it until something shatters. Scratches can be handled by a disposable plastic protector (I go through about one a year, so it's not at all inconvenient).
    • by oic0 ( 1864384 )
      Or just have easily replaceable super hard glass over a more tough glass. Glass offers better optical transmission and a better surface. I've been using a tempered glass screen protectors for the last year and mucn prefer it. In reality phones are alreadtly built this way. The front face plate is very cheap. Its just hard to remove since its glued on.
    • by Luckyo ( 1726890 )

      You misunderstand. They're build harder and harder to survive scratches. Not drops.

      We already know that making glass harder generally also makes it more brittle, so folks behind Gorilla Glass have started introducing less brittleness to the glass in version 3 already.

  • “All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic, heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel.

    Sapphire and Steel have been assigned”.

  • The new Apple Watches (except the "Sport" version) do use sapphire for their screens.

    Presumably that's because athletes are more willing than other market segments to pay to repair or replace broken items.

    • I'm thinking that's because athletes are more likely to hit their watches while doing activities.

    • by zr ( 19885 )

      sapphire also repels water a little better. that wouldn't do anything to overall water resistance, of course, but would make reading off the display easier. which might be a benefit to using in "sporty" sweaty situations.

      • It says that the sport version is the one that doesn't use sapphire, and the other ones do, contraindicating your explanation.

    • Presumably that's because stupid people are more willing than other market segments to pay to repair or replace broken items.

      FTFY

  • A larger surface will be more prone to flex, leading to cracks. So a small surface like a watch face won't be subjected to much flexing stress, and the sapphire glass will hold up. A tablet, not so much. Pricing too. On a watch with a square inch of glass, spending ten times more for the sapphire glass isn't a big deal. On a tablet with about 30 square inches, well, do the math.
  • As someone who is into watches, one of the things I have learned is:

    Watch glass is either mineral crystal or sapphire crystal.

    Mineral crystal is prone to scratching (as compared to Sapphire), but handles a direct impact relatively well. Sapphire crystal is much harder and is extremely resistant to scratching, but is much more shatter-prone than mineral.

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