Apple is reportedly spending over £350 million to speed up production of its sapphire screen, which is predicted to feature on the upcoming iPhone 6.
The $578 million (£353 million) investment has been pumped into the Cupertino-based company's advanced sapphire furnaces (ASFs), which Apple hopes will be able to churn out a financially-viable amount of the hard-wearing glass.
Sapphire has a value of 9 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, so when it's machined into a thin, transparent plate, the effect is to create an extremely tough and "virtually scratch free" surface.
The near scratch-proof sapphire glass is already used on the iPhone 5S to cover the fingerprint-reading home button and the camera lens, but the latest rumours are that the next iteration of the company's smartphone range will feature the glass across the whole screen.
Sapphire glass is seen by many to be the successor to Corning Inc.'s Gorilla Glass that has been the standard for smartphone screens since 2010, and it has long been rumoured that the iPhone 6 would feature this much tougher material.
The half-million dollar cash influx seems to have largely gone towards sapphire glass manufacturer GT Advanced Technologies, which Apple hopes will ramp up "the development of its next generation, large capacity ASF furnaces to deliver low cost, high volume manufacturing of sapphire material."
There have long been complaints surrounding the durability of the screens on Apple devices. A survey in 2012 found that 57 per cent of British iPhone owners have cracked their screens, and a worldwide survey found that nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of iPhones had been cracked.
This is likely why Apple sees the inclusion of sapphire glass as a make-or-break proposition for its next-gen phone. With pressure from phone manufacturers Samsung and Google splitting the smartphone market, the company of Steve Jobs must see the need to justify its typically steep prices.
Sounds like curtains for the Gorilla. Not what Corning cracked it up to be?
"There have long been complaints surrounding the durability of the screens on Apple devices. A survey in 2012 found that 57 per cent of British iPhone owners have cracked their screens, and a worldwide survey found that nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of iPhones had been cracked."
Here is what I think now. Apple owns sapphire and will differentiate itself from Samsung and gorilla glass with the screen display. Samsung is in bed with the wrong screen maker to make a switch to sapphire any time soon. Gtat is the only one in the world with the sapphire furnace and Hyperion combination that can make the price and volume equation work out for apple or anyone else. Additionally apple has patents for sapphire laminates, sapphire liquidmetal and has exclusive master agreement for liquidmetal.
I don't see how Samsung gets into the sapphire screen space anytime soon and by that point apple will be 3-4 more generations deep into sapphire development. Or they will pay 10-20x times as much for a screen over gorilla glass to go with gtat alternative sapphire screen.
I can only see the other small players (google, lg, htc) going sapphire screens because they don't need as many screens but even that will cost them billions since they don't have an ion cannon to knock prices down by 98%.
So what options are left ? Corning buys gtat? By the time sapphire screens arrive the price will be too high to take over gtat. How about Samsung makes a hostile takeover of gtat? You can bet apples billions that they would counter and outbid Samsung no matter how high the price was.
Corning will live on and maybe they will rename themselves Samsung and continue to fit the galaxy 8 and 9 with gorilla glass but the rest of the players will find a way to get to sapphire glass by 2018.