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Look out Gorilla Glass, next gen devices might feature sapphire displays

In the future, economies of scale could bring down the price of sapphire, making it possible for manufacturers to use it on smartphones and other devices.
March 21, 2013
Sapphire-Crystal for

Have you ever dropped your smartphone or tablet? Not a pleasant experience, I know. As always, the relentless pursuit of innovation is yielding achievements and developments in areas not previously thought possible. Science once confined to the limits of military and security applications has been leaping over to the cutthroat mobile device market for some time now.

When it comes to protecting the displays of our precious devices, Corning’s Gorilla Glass is currently state of the art. Here’s a demo we’ve seen at MWC in February.

Sapphire could be the next wonder material 

Sapphire itself is a special material. With a melting point of 2,030C, it remains virtually impervious to pretty much everything that’s thrown at it. As the second hardest material next to diamond, it is significantly more abundant and less expensive, making it perfect for our beloved mobile devices. What’s more is that it has long enjoyed success in a variety of applications – namely bulletproofing the cars of some very special people, and on Rolex watches to ensure that the face stays scratch free throughout years of use. And there’s many more.

Pieces of GT Advanced Technologies sapphire glass. The one on the left is designed for an iPhone 5
Extremetech GT Advanced Technologies sapphire glass prototypes. Can you spot the one for the iPhone 5 on the far left?

The sum of it is that sapphire is ten times more scratch resistant than normal glass, and, while we don’t have real world tests of how it will stack up next to Corning’s famous Gorilla Glass, we’d have to say that it’s likely to yield some drastic improvements for people that tend to drop their devices more than they ought to.

Naturally, it’s still a material that has a crystalline structure, and is therefore still capable of shattering or cracking, but the fact remains, it is significantly harder and stronger than the materials used in our smartphone displays today. While it remains roughly ten times as expensive as its immediate competitor – Gorilla Glass, economies of scale in the furiously competitive mobile device economy will result in it becoming much cheaper in a relatively short period of time. According to the talented nerds at ExtremeTech:

 “Sapphire glass is around three times the strength and scratch resistance of Corning’s Gorilla Glass, [making] an almost perfect smartphone screen. There’s one caveat: according to a market analyst, a sheet of Gorilla Glass costs around $3, while the same piece of sapphire glass would cost $30. Thanks to increasing competition, though, the cost of sapphire glass is dropping. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a high-end smartphone (such as the iPhone) use a sapphire screen in the next few years.”

If you’ve taken the time to see our drop tests, you’ll know that most devices don’t hold up very well against concrete. Assuming similar advancements are made in other materials, we one day could all own devices that are incredibly hard to smash, shatter, and break.

Is this a welcome advancement? Have you ever shattered or broken your devices display?