According to a report by Technology Review, Sapphire, which is harder than any other natural material except diamond, may soon become cheap enough to replace Gorilla Glass, the durable material from Corning that’s used to make screens on iPhones and other smartphones. Sapphire is three times stronger and more scratch resistant than Gorilla Glass, which is why Apple uses it now to protect the iPhone 5 camera.
Analyst Eric Virey says that a Gorilla Glass display costs less than $3, while a sapphire display would cost about $30. However, that price could fall below $20 in a couple of years thanks to increased competition and improving technology. He speculates that some manufacturers will start testing the Sapphire display and may even release some high-end smartphones using it later this year. He added that an alternative to using pure sapphire is to laminate an ultrathin layer of sapphire with a cheaper transparent material.
GT Advanced Technologies, based in Nashua, New Hampshire, is developing a method for making sapphire sheets thinner than a human hair—much thinner than the nearly millimeter-thick glass used now on mobile phones.
GT is also cutting the cost of sapphire manufacturing by following the strategy that it used over the last several years to reduce the cost of making crystalline silicon for solar cells.
GT Technologies estimates that sapphire displays might cost only three to four times as much as those made from Gorilla Glass.