back to article Help! Apple has snaffled the WHOLE WORLD'S supply of sapphire glass

Apple's appetite for sapphire glass is so voracious that it has bought up enough of the display material to keep a lesser company going for three years, it has been claimed. Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu haus Canonical, said that his firm's attempts to buy sapphire glass for its Ubuntu Edge smartphones had been hampered …


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  1. ravenviz


    There's already a steel shortage, now sapphire...

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Blimey!

      Other medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium and Silver.

      1. IanzThingz
        Thumb Up

        Re: Blimey!

        Heavy elements may not be used where there is life...Thanks for the Sapphire & Steel memory :)

        1. h4rm0ny

          Re: Blimey!

          Actually, not sure I want to remember that last episode - still gives me nightmares!

          (loved it really)

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: Blimey!

            If that gave you the willies, try the original "The Tomorrow People". Not only is the music and opening credits ultra-creepy, within the first 10 minutes they've announced that they are going to take over the world from the inferior "saps" for their own sake.

            1. h4rm0ny

              Re: Blimey!

              Thanks. I'll check that out. I really enjoyed Sapphire and Steel, loved the old Quatermass films. Where are the stories these days with a brave scientist in the lead? :(

              (n.b. by scientist, I mean one who actually uses science to solve a problem, not someone who is called a scientist and then punches their way to victory).

              1. Paul Naylor

                Re: Blimey!

                (n.b. by scientist, I mean one who actually uses science to solve a problem, not someone who is called a scientist and then punches their way to victory).

                Or runs off to write a GUI in Visual Basic to track an IP...

                Got the Sapphire and Steel DVDs. Still creepy.

        2. Duffy Moon

          Re: Blimey!

          *trans-uranic, heavy elements no less.

  2. Smarty Pants

    Shame about the Edge

    Signed up for 1 on Kickstarter, would really have liked to try the desktop/mobile O/S system

    1. kryptonaut

      Re: Shame about the Edge

      You too?

    2. Steve Todd

      Re: Shame about the Edge

      Not a realistic hope of it ever getting funding. It would, IIRC, have needed an order of magnitude more orders than Kickstarter had ever achieved for a funded project. They may a well have offered to build a Death Star.

      1. dogged

        Re: Shame about the Edge

        I'm in £10 for a death star.

        1. Steve Todd

          Re: Shame about the Edge

          I just checked the numbers. It was actually on Indigogo not Kickstarter (so the OP above is either mistaken or lying), the biggest project on which received just shy of $2 million. Shuttleworth wanted to raise $32 million. There was no way that was realistically going to happen and it was a fixed funding project (so if they didn't reach the target they got nothing). It was impressive to get even 1/3rd of the target but there was seriously no way that he expected to get funded.

          1. Smarty Pants

            Re: Shame about the Edge

            got wrong crowd fund sorry, got the flowza clock from kickstarter

        2. wayward4now

          Re: Shame about the Edge

          Put me down for 20, as I want the first go at the shiny red button.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    New factory in Mesa?

    Where is Gordon Freeman and the G-Man or is it now an i-Man calling the shots? I'll just settle down for the monorail ride down to the shop floor...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yeah right Mark

    The big difference is that Apple and Samsung are actually making something, your just talking about it.

    Let me try it:

    I think that smart devices are going to have to have 256G of storage. Now I just sit back and wait for the inevitable to happen and say "hey I said this had to happen, Apple and Samsung are just copying my ideas".

    1. Uffish

      Re: Yeah right Anonymous Coward

      Or, on the other hand, Shuttleworth is right. Do you really think he is incapable of having a good idea, or that phone manufacturers would never pick up on a good idea that wasn't patented.

      1. Thecowking

        Re: Yeah right Anonymous Coward

        If Apple or Google had started shipping phones which plugged into a dock and became desktops, he would have had a point.

        Saying that devices of the future will have better processors and RAM isn't exactly clear evidence that people are copying him. It's like the above example of storage space, exactly like that.

        1. Vince

          Re: Yeah right Anonymous Coward

          Motorola did this with the Motorola Atrix - Android smartphone when docked to the laptop kit became a Linux PC, and when connected with HDMI ran an on-board entertainment center.

          It wasn't quite ready for prime time, but the concept was awesome - it's just a shame it didn't get more traction or be worked on until kit was quite fast enough.

      2. NumptyScrub

        Re: Yeah right Anonymous Coward

        Sapphire displays are not the best solution, easily replaceable plastic displays are. You heard it here first folks ^^;

        (in my defense, I've got a scratch on my phone screen I'd rather not have, and people are quoting >£100 to sort it. I'd happily pay £5 a pop for a straightforward plastic one that will need replacing every few months, than >£100 on a Gorilla Glass one that is a total pain in the ass to replace)

        1. PerlyKing

          Re: Replaceable plastic displays

          @NumptyScrub: Sounds like you want a screen protector, although the good ones are usually more than £5 each.

          I suspect that a lot of the ">£100" isn't so much for the Gorilla Glass display as for the labour involved in taking it apart and putting it back together. I've seen at least a couple of articles recently on how hard it is to fix modern phones and tablets because they tend to be glued together instead of screwed, in order to make them ever thinner and lighter. Disassembly tends to involve a heat gun to melt the glue, and the possibility of breaking something while you're at it.

        2. Mage Silver badge

          Re: Yeah right Anonymous Coward

          Hard often means cracks easily. This is true of Sapphire.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Yeah right Anonymous Coward

          It'll buff out ...

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Yeah right Anonymous Coward

            Vertu used sapphire for their phone screens years ago. Shuttleworth's idea it wasn't.

        4. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

          "I'd happily pay £5 for a plastic one every few months, than >£100 on one that is a pain to replace."

          When the Tesco and Asda corner the market in lemons make soda pop with citric acid.

          Why not!

          Add some ascorbic acid and make it sugar free and I would buy some.

          1. cortland

            Acerbic acid?

      3. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

        Re: Yeah right Anonymous Coward

        Watch manufactures have been using sapphire to make watch faces for years. It was inevitable that phone manufactures would pick up on it sooner or later. I don't think Mark Shuttleworth is the only one to have suggested using it. We've discussed it here before now. A quick Google back through el'Reg suggests that the Ubuntu crowd sourcing effort was launched on 23rd of July 2013, but an article from the start of May reported an MIT paper from March suggesting using sapphire.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yeah right Mark

      sounds like he's just grumpy that not enough people were interested in the Edge to make the kickstarter work

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Yeah right Mark

      The approach Apple is claimed to be adopting over sapphire glass, reminds me of what Apple did with high resolution touch displays back when it launched the iPhone and iPad. Whilst Apple may be protecting it's supplies the effect will be, like then, to make it difficult for others to directly compete.

    4. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Yeah right Mark

      >The big difference is that Apple and Samsung are actually making something, your just talking about it.

      Apple is doing what Apple has always done: steal ideas, spot upcoming technology, bring it together in an Apple wrapper (technology and marketing) and present it as something new that Apple has invented; and create a new market practically overnight.

      I suggest that Canonical have demonstrated not only the concept but also that today's technology is capable of delivering the "super-phone", Canonical have also demonstrated the hurdles that need to be overcome in bringing the product to market when you don't own or control all three elements of the device (ie. hardware, phone OS, desktop OS). Apple having full control and deep pockets could actually bring a product to market ahead of Canonical; I hope Canonical have patented key elements, as going on past performance they could find themselves being accused of copying Apple! So whilst this particular complaint is about sapphire glass, there is a much bigger beast lurking in the background.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yeah right Mark

        I'd sooner have the well thought out, well supported Apple 2nd hand approach to something than the 3rd hand, mess that is the Samsung copy of a copy.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Yeah right Mark @AC

          >I'd sooner have the well thought out, well supported Apple 2nd hand approach to something

          I think you'll find a large segment of the market in agreement, hence why Apple are able to apply their magic and create a market. No one can seriously say that products such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad really came out of nowhere, but due to the Apple design focus and 'magic' these products clicked with the public and created markets.

          In some ways both Google and Samsung have had their opportunity to delivery a Ubuntu 'superphone' since Canonical worked with them on producing the prototypes for their 'superphone' before deciding that they had to go it alone and have full control over the integrated device. Microsoft have so far focused on having a single OS across all platforms so the 'superphone' concept doesn't seem to fit their current world view, even though Win8 it's Modern and Desktop UI's could be made to conform to the 'superphone' idea. Obviously, Nokia (the part that wasn't sold to MS) currently have a platform issue with their phones and so could partner with Canonical... So I'm interested to see what Apple's interpretation will be, but at the same time do feel sorry for Canonical because they are the one's who have largely pioneered the concept and piloted the technology.

    5. Luke McCarthy

      Re: Yeah right Mark

      I'm calling diamond displays.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Diamond displays

        Now that is cutting edge technology

    6. James O'Brien

      Re: Yeah right Mark

      I could care less if Mark is right or wrong, but I do wonder one thing,

      "Apple has also started describing their latest-generation mobile CPUs as desktop-class."

      Cause help but wonder how big the phone will be with the attached heatsink :)

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Yeah right Mark @James O'Brien "Desktop-class"

        Don't know about the heatsink, but Apple have almost certainly identified another use for all those electric car charging points that are appearing all over the place...

  5. Ali on the Reg

    So buy Corning, what's the problem?

    1. Robert E A Harvey

      Or invent something else. Necessity etc etc etc.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's seen as last generation tech now?

  6. DrXym Silver badge

    In fairness

    Ubuntu have been playing around with a desktop / phone hybrid for quite some time. There are videos on YouTube of a Motorola Atrix which runs Android as a phone but when it's plugged into its dock it becomes Ubuntu.

    I think the idea has a lot of potential though I'm not sure Ubuntu have the clout to pull it off.

  7. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Oh well. You can't blame Shuttleworth for taking an opportunity to bring attention to his wares, but it's a bit rich to say Apple are copying him when Apple and Android phones are merely following the existing trend for ever more RAM, storage and processor grunt.

    Wristwatches have sported sapphire faces for years, as did the Vertu phone (a stupidly expensive Nokia spinoff)

  8. Ted Treen

    Clear objective unbiased reporting...

    "...hampered by Cupertino's greed..."

    Nothing to do with a company ensuring it has the supplies/raw materials it anticipates needing over the next three years. Do companies apologise for a shortage of product saying "We could have got the materials we needed, but we thought it fairer to order insufficient for our needs so every one of our competitors could also have some"?

    It appears that that's the way to go if:-

    a) It's Jasper writing


    b) It's Apple he's writing about.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Gaming the suppliers

      I do not have the numbers to know what Apple are really doing, but here is meanest possibility:

      Apple place a huge bulk order and get an excellent price in return. The manufacture invests to increase production to meet the order, and delivers over a time scale of say 1 year. During that time, everyone else has to use something else. A year later, the manufacture asks Apple about a repeat order, and Apple replies "No thanks, we have two more years of stock sitting idle on the shelves." The manufacturer now has no regular clients at all, and is still in paying for that investment in increased capacity. If anyone thinks about placing an order with the manufacturer, Apple offer parts from stock at a lower price. Apple waits a year, then buys out the bankrupt manufacturer for a pittance.

      As I say, I have no idea if this is Apple's plan, but it is a tried, tested, effective and profitable plan.

      1. Philippe

        Re: Gaming the suppliers

        This would have made sense if Apple wasn't the one paying to build the increase capacity.

        They tend to buy years of production in advance in order to give themselves a time buffer with the competition.

        They've done it before, with the 1.8 inch HDD on the iPad Mini, for instance.

    2. FrankAlphaXII

      Re: Clear objective unbiased reporting...

      >>a) It's Jasper writing

      I remember when people used to say the same about Anna. Like as recently as last year.

  9. GBE

    Sapphire Glass isn't...

    A glass, that is.

    At least not from a materials science point of view.

    It's crystaline rather than amorphous.

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Sapphire Glass isn't...

      No, it's transparent aluminum.1 And if it's good enough for whales...

      1. Okay, α-Al2O3. But what's an oxide between friends?

      1. Duffy Moon

        Re: Sapphire Glass isn't...

        Transparent aluminium!!!

        Look, we're spelling sulphur sulfur now, the least you could do is reciprocate ;)

        1. Tim99 Silver badge

          Re: Sapphire Glass isn't...

          Transparent aluminium!!!

          Look, we're spelling sulphur sulfur now, the least you could do is reciprocate ;)

          OK, what follows is nearly interesting. IUPAC (International Union of Pure And Applied Chemistry) decrees that the correct spellings are aluminium and sulfur. USAians are generally allowed, but not encouraged, to use the correct aluminium.

          Sulphur is sulfur as it comes from a Latin root rather than Greek, and early UK spellings used the "f". It was turned into the pseudo-posh "ph" later. There is a heated thread about it on The Royal Society of Chemistry website - Link:

          The definitive IUPAC periodic table is here: PDF file.

      2. Chemist

        Re: Sapphire Glass isn't...

        "But what's an oxide between friends"

        In the case of aluminium - abrasive !

  10. M Gale

    I am interested, I might even get one.

    However there is still one rather lovely-looking concept phone that I'd love to play with a real example of.

    Shame it'll probably never happen.

  11. Ralph B

    If they use it

    A sapphire screens on the next iPhone would be nice, if Apple actually use it. However, they bought exclusive rights to liquidmetal tech and all we ever got was a SIM removal tool. Maybe they just bought all the sapphire glass to stop anyone else having it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If they use it

      My understanding is that they created the factory in Arizona to produce more sapphire than anybody ever has before... no reason to do that if you wanted to limit the supply of sapphire.

  12. Trollslayer Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Other customers?

    You know, such as military vehicles which have been using this for years.

    'whole world's supply'?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Other customers?

      The only source cited in the article is Mark Shuttleworth - and his "Apple just snapped up the entire three-year supply of the same sapphire display we wanted for the Edge" quote suggests he was talking about a specific display or display component rather than all the manufactured sapphire.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So you have a glass business, you can sell a few pieces of it to Ubuntu or a few tonnes of it to Apple. Which would you choose? (bearing in mind you're in the business of making money).

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      I dont think its a question of choice.

      Apple needs to buy all the sapphire glass to make sure no-one else can have it. The more I look at an Ubuntu phone (or rather a linux phone - just booted by Ubu) the more I like it. I worked for years on systems with much much lower cpu power and graphics capability than your average phone. I run nothing but linux at home and in the office and and soon I will be able to run all of those apps on my phone. For free.

      So Apple will not be able to compete in the general arena - they will still have the fanbois but not the hoi-poloi who would be running around running enterprise level software in their palms if it weren't for scratchy screens. Its an interesting way to corner the market.

      1. Tim99 Silver badge

        Re: I dont think its a question of choice.

        ... they will still have the fanbois but not the hoi-poloi who would be running around running enterprise level software in their palms ...

        Sorry Tom, although it does seem that Android has more traction with hoi-poloi fondle users, iOS (which comes from *NIX/BSD/Darwin/NeXT roots) seems to be more likely to be used in more enterprise level software than Android or Canonical. If you want to feel depressed, try Googling "Google Android vs Apple in the enterprise".

        Non-fondle serious back-end Linux based stuff is often Red Hat/CentOS, or even pure Debian, Canonical's Ubuntu might be more friendly for CLI-phobic newbies.

        Disclosure - I several horses in this race. Debian and OS X for keyboard stuff and an iPad Air for fondling. My mobile, a very ancient monochrome Nokia that only does phone calls and SMS, has a battery that lasts about a week...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I dont think its a question of choice.

          If I turned the display all the way down and only did voice and SMS, my note 2 would probably go for a month and a half... :P

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sapphire Glass is crap...

    Try reading about Gorilla Glass 3 here with a real comparison and evaluation.

    Sapphire glass would be more expensive, prone to chips and slower to make.

    Who do you trust to make glass for your display anyway, some startup in Arizona or the people who have been making EVERY KIND OF glass for over a hundred and sixty years???????

    Apple is trying to get lower pricing and exclusivity. Nothing else.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Sapphire Glass is crap...

      You're right that sapphire isn't necessarily the way forward... only last week we had an article about manufacturing glass with micro-cracks, which allows impact energy to be dispersed without visible damage. Inspired by nacre, IIRC.

      But sapphire prone to chips? I'm hardly the careful type, yet my watch face is fine.

      Regarding cost, there is a more informed Reg article here:

    2. Darryl

      Re: Sapphire Glass is crap...

      Yep, and exclusivity of the marketing "We have this and nobody else does, so you should buy our stuff" variety, whether it's any better or worse is beside the point.

    3. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Sapphire Glass is crap...

      If I want "a real comparison and evaluation" I think I'm going to choose a site other than Corning's. They have quite a vested interest considering how much they stand to lose if everyone was to start replacing Gorilla Glass with sapphire in mobile products.

      You might as well go to Apple for a fair evaluation of the GS4, or Samsung for a fair evaluation of the iPhone 5S. Remember Microsoft's "fair" evaluations of Linux?

    4. Jeff Lassitter

      Re: Sapphire Glass is crap...

      Diamond has a MOHS hardness value of 10, sapphire of 9, Gorilla Glass 3 of 6.

      In this business, the name-o-the-game is to try to secretly accomplish something ... and then brag about it afterwards. It comes across as pathetic whining when complaining that someone else has realized one's earlier publically-stated "suggestions". If there's no more AlO3 on the market for the next 3 years, then invest in C coatings and develop the first viable super-thin diamond screen. Absolutely nothing would be more scratch resistant than that ...

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: Sapphire Glass is crap...

        There's little point in developing a diamond screen for the hardness unless it could be made cheaper. I'm at a loss to think of something a phone's screen will encounter that will scratch sapphire but not diamond. Pretty much the only thing is, uh, sapphire. I'll be sure to remember if I'm carrying a sapphire ring around in my pocket to put the phone in the other one!

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Sapphire Glass is crap...

          >I'm at a loss to think of something a phone's screen will encounter that will scratch sapphire but not diamond.

          Two things for starters:

          The diamonds on rings and other jewellery.

          Diamond particles in the dust created when one uses a diamond circular saw blade.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward's so weird how mobes are getting more powerful and have ever more RAM. My first droid had only 512mb of RAM and a 512mhz CPU. I guess the big boys really are copying Mr. Shuttleworth.

  16. harmjschoonhoven


    There is a historical precedent when Peter Dollond bought all the flint glass of optical quality that was available in the late 1700s.

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