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back to article Apple-aligned firm opens sapphire glass factory. iPhone 6 rumours, DEPLOY

Apple manufacturing partner GT Advanced has embarked on a hiring drive for its brand new sapphire-glass-producing iFactory. The fruity firm's friend will produce the "state of the art material" in Mesa, Arizona. GT sent around a postcard which announced that jobs were available at the production facility. It said: "Right now …

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Prescient Sci-Fi

It's transparent aluminum, Mr. Scott!

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He did design (well, demonstrate) it on a Mac after all.

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Re: Prescient Sci-Fi

Al2O3

if I recall....

P.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Prescient Sci-Fi

I have had sapphire crystal glass on the front and back of my watch since 1999. While the stainless steel casing has accumulated knocks scratches and the odd dint, the glass is completely free of any blemish.

But on a phone can they make it shatter resistant.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Prescient Sci-Fi

Sapphire is a lot harder than glass (almost impossible to scratch) but is not that much stronger, i.e., most impacts that would break a current iPhone's Gorilla Glass would also break sapphire.

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Re: Prescient Sci-Fi

"But on a phone can they make it shatter resistant."

Probably not so much. You can do something like putting a plastic backing on the sapphire (like car windshields) to give it some tensile strength on the back side (the direction in which an impact is likely to flex the sapphire sheet), or at least hold the sapphire together when it cracks.

But sapphire's virtue is hardness, not toughness, and it's nothing a ceramic you can easily chemically modify. Unlike glass - glasses are chemical mutts and you can tweak their composition all day long, the way Corning does with Gorilla Glass.

Your best hope to improve the toughness of sapphire is to see if you can heat treat it until some residual compressive stresses are left in the inner and outer faces of the sapphire cover, which would suppress crack formation a bit. But I'm not familiar with sapphire tempering treatments. (Again, unlike many glasses.)

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Coat

How long before Amazon creates the...

*Puts on shades*

...Kindle Sapphire

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How long before it's bendy and incorporates the display hardware itself?

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sapphire glass scratches ?

Have owned a Seiko watch with so-called sapphire glass and the problem was that while the material was hard enough to resist minor scuffs it still scratched in a brittle pattern on impact and was then too hard to polish out .

Rather have watch with plastic glass that can be restored using Brasso or T Cut.

Phone makers using plastic don't help themselves by putting a tinted coating on -- damage to this cannot be polished out so that fine print becomes jaggy and harder to read.

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Facepalm

Re: sapphire glass scratches ?

"Rather have watch with plastic glass that can be restored using Brasso or T Cut."

And you want a Casio because it has "more functions" than a Patek Philippe. Each to their own, I suppose...

[and you can buy high-end watches which are 50 year's old which still have glass/sapphire which is almost perfect. do you go rock-climbing with your watch or something?]

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Re: sapphire glass scratches ?

I've had my Tag Aquaracer for over a decade, I only take it off to sleep and I would describe myself as pretty active. Not even a hint of a scratch here. Kind of begs the question, and I don't want to diss your Seiko, but are there different qualities of Sapphire glass? Also, what is this going to do to the price of the next iPhone?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: sapphire glass scratches ?

I have a Seiko with sapphire glass. It has been abused both at work (scraping against hardware, racks, any number of sharp metal objects) and at play (camping holidays, boat trips, etc).

No scratches anywhere.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: sapphire glass scratches ?

I imagine it will remain ridiculously high.

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Re: sapphire glass scratches ?

Same here - my Seiko watch has sapphire glass, and no scratches. And I'm not gentle - the band and case are heavily scratched.

It's not surprising Apple is doing this - it will get harder and harder to differentiate premium smartphones in the future. At least until the next big thing is figured out.

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Re: sapphire glass scratches ?

My tag aquaracer is also 10 years old not a scratch, I also see another Seiko owner has not had the problem, are you sure it was not a point impact? That can f$%& most things.

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Re: sapphire glass scratches ?

Maybe your sapphire crystal it's not quite what it seems, my Oris Watch face is completely scratch free after over 14 years of continual wear.

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Re: sapphire glass scratches ? @LarsG

Don't have the "sapphire glass" Seiko, gave it to my brother in 1981 when I bought a new watch. This has plastic glass, routinely replaced when serviced by Rolex but scratches polished out in between using T Cut.

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Re: sapphire glass scratches ?

Check the (Seiko) spec. Could be "Hardlex" which I don't think is quite the same thing.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: sapphire glass scratches ?

Either way... sapphire or plastic... someone out there will charge $$$$ to repair it either way... depends how deep the damage is too. Also, sapphire has a much better dielectric constant for capacitive touch control.

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Re: sapphire glass scratches ? @Lallabalalla

Yes, you're probably right. Hardlex name rings a bell.

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Re: sapphire glass scratches ?

I had (have in a drawer) a similar Seiko watch. The glass was super hard but was marked/damaged by a (push)bike fall on asphalt/pavement at about 30mph.

I imagine Gorilla Glass may be tougher for impact (I seem to remember seeing videos of it being bent through ridiculous angles without breaking) and I imagine it will definitely be cheaper so it is preferable to me at least. I got a minor scratch at an edge early on somehow but none since and I treat my phone fairly badly and certainly don't use a cover, except when biking.

To those that want an inflexible, cold-feeling, rock-like object in their pocket that looks nice (ooh-er), a glass phone that is at least less breakable that the previous effort seems like a step forward though.

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at this point I can only see one potential effect.

We gonna have to spend about 9 months listening to Samsung fans telling us that Sapphire is crap and it's just a gimmick etc. etc. until the S6 comes out sporting a Sapphire screen.

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Re: at this point I can only see one potential effect.

quote: "We gonna have to spend about 9 months listening to Samsung fans telling us that Sapphire is crap and it's just a gimmick etc. etc. until the S6 comes out sporting a Sapphire screen."

I feel the need to wind you up about how Apple fans kept going on about nobody needing cut/paste on a phone until Apple actually implemented it in iOS. Or how Steve Jobs stated explicitly that a 7" tablet is the wrong size, yet we now have the iPad Mini. ;)

Personally I'm wondering why no other premium device manufacturer has bothered putting Al2O3 on their devices before now, like people have said it has been used on premium timekeeping devices for decades. Has there been an issue with getting it to work with touchscreens or something?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: at this point I can only see one potential effect.

Personally I'm wondering why no other premium device manufacturer has bothered putting Al2O3 on their devices before now, like people have said it has been used on premium timekeeping devices for decades. Has there been an issue with getting it to work with touchscreens or something?

Up till now it's been a question of cost. These screens have to be cut from huge sapphire single crystal ingots grown from a melt, much like a silicon wafer is cut from a silicon ingot. The price of the latter was driven down by the demands of the semiconductor industry and we've now reached the stage where industry is preparing to transition to 450 mm/18" diameters. Sapphire growth tech is on a similar, albeit less intensive, path towards maturity.

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Re: at this point I can only see one potential effect.

It is cost, but that is mostly controlled by manufacturing efficiency. There was nothing stopping someone from using it for a smartphone screen, but it needs to be produced in massive quantity to drive the price down. The problem is, the capacity won't be built until the demand is there. The smartphone OEMs might use it for one product, but they can't even guarantee how well that product will sell.

Enter Apple, who solves the problem by paying for the construction of a factory that will be used solely to serve their needs. Net result, Apple gets cheap (well cheapER) sapphire screens, but the situation is still the same for everyone else. Samsung of course has the money and the scale to do this as well if they wish, but the Motorolas and HTCs that don't know if their next big phone will be a hit or a flop are SOL.

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Re: at this point I can only see one potential effect.

"until the S6 comes out sporting a Sapphire screen."

Knowing Samsung's technical ability, I predict it will be a diamond screen :-)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: at this point I can only see one potential effect.

"Or how Steve Jobs stated explicitly that a 7" tablet is the wrong size, yet we now have the iPad Mini. ;)"

Eh, the iPad mini has a 7.9" screen, not 7", which makes it ~27% bigger. I had a Kindle Fire, which felt a little small to me when reading books. I switched to the iPad mini, mostly because it has a bigger screen. (And a different aspect ratio that I prefer.)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: at this point I can only see one potential effect.

Transparent aluminum is more difficult to manufacture and there-fore more expensive.

Although, Gorilla Glass 3 is 3x stronger than GG2 and is in the S4 and a few other products.

Sapphire is also 60% heavier than GG3 so they would likely make it thinner to compensate for the weight. It is also 3 to 4 times more expensive... how-ever much the screen comes to in their bill of materials. I can't see the iPhone6 costing less or even the same as the iPhone5s. Time to start making room on my credit card... haha.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: at this point I can only see one potential effect.

>We gonna have to spend about 9 months listening to Samsung fans telling us that Sapphire is crap

Unlikely - the costs and drawbacks of making larger sheets of crystal glass is the primary reason why Samsung-Corning developed Gorilla Glass in the first place.

Not a particular fan of either company, but it's a good example of the difference between Apple (an OEM reseller) and Samsung which develop components, materials etc.

....the smart money is largely going into plastic screens in any case.

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Re: at this point I can only see one potential effect.

Nobody wants plastic screens, because plastic scratches.

I'd rather have a scratchproof screen that shatters if I drop it at a funny angle than a shatterproof screen that scratches if I accidentally put coins in the pocket my phone is in, or drop my phone and it slides down the sidewalk a bit. I used to hate how scratched up my phones would be when I had some fairly high end Nokias - despite how careful I was. And somehow dust always seemed to get underneath the screen in a way that never happens with glass screens. When I bought a KRZR I thought the glass screen was its best feature!

I'm sure someone will claim that there is or will be a scratchproof plastic, but anyone who claims that is ignorant of materials science. The harder you make something (i.e. more scratch resistant) the stiffer it is (i.e. more prone to shattering) There's no free lunch, you have to pick your poison. Well, you can play games by using both in a laminate, as windshields do, but that doesn't stop the shattering, it just stops it from spreading as easily.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: at this point I can only see one potential effect.

>I'm sure someone will claim that there is or will be a scratchproof plastic, but anyone who claims that is ignorant of materials science

Eek...I can think of 7 or 8, how ignorant am I? ............but I said 'plastic' above because it's flexible (ie plastic) displays that are interesting and getting all the investment right now.......

.....I suspect Apple's interest is mostly down to the fact that Sapphire sounds better and Apple don't want to line Samsung's pockets by using Gorilla Glass.

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Re: at this point I can only see one potential effect.

Gorilla Glass is made by Corning, not Samsung, so Apple's use of Gorilla Glass does not and never has lined Samsung's pockets.

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I read elsewhere (Macrumors.com I think) that the sapphire glass will be used for the camera and perhaps for the iwatch but it is unlikely that it will be used for the front face of the 'phone.

Sapphire glass works well on watch faces which are small and the glass can be curved. On a 'phone front it needs to be thin and flat (for the touch screen to work) and comparatively large which means it is more likely to shatter.

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Anonymous Coward

If it's made of sapphire, it ain't a glass

Just sayin'

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Re: If it's made of sapphire, it ain't a glass

glass is a state not a material. Having said that, Sapphire generally forms a crystal so isn't a glass - but most watch manufacturers describe it as sapphire crystal glass!

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Anonymous Coward

Optical quality?

Sapphire has a higher index of refraction than glass. Watch manufacturers typically put anti-reflective coatings on one or both sides of a sapphire watch crystal because otherwise it's really "shiny" and often difficult to read. Notice that since Apple switched to a sapphire camera cover, there have been complaints about internal reflections and chromatic aberrations (purple fringing/haze). I wonder how this would impact the image quality/visibility if it were to cover an entire cell phone screen.

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Re: Optical quality?

Maybe the designer is a Jimmy Hendrix fan?

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Only as good as the weakest link

I can understand the marketing appeal of a sapphire screen, but you can bet that a non-replaceable battery will continue to be used to control the life expectancy of the phone.

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Re: Only as good as the weakest link

http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to/apple/3346693/how-replace-iphone-battery/

£10 plus the cost of a screwdriver.

Hardly plug and play like friendly but then neither is the Android operating system :)

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Re: Only as good as the weakest link

Just got the non-replaceable battery of my iPhone 3GS replaced for £25 (including mailing it back to me). Replaced the battery of my daughter's 3GS over a year ago (even cheaper but involved me doing the fiddling about with tiny things) and it is still doing fine.

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Anonymous Coward

Just the screen....?

Maybe the next iPhone will be made entirely out of sapphire crystal - now that would be an innovation! In reality if you think about it, the average Joe will not see the difference between a gorilla glass and sapphire crystal screen, but EVERYONE would notice an iphone made entirely out of sapphire glass!

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Not In California

Thankfully Apple is learning not to invest in such production in California.

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