While Apple’s designs always get high marks for pure aesthetic value, the company has often been criticized over the durability of their devices – especially larger displays on the iPad and iPad mini, and the iPhone 4 and 4S, which featured full glass panels on both front and back. According to MIT Technology Review, however, such fragility issues may soon become a thing of the past.
According to a new report, smartphone manufacturers may begin replacing glass on their devices altogether , in favor of sapphire crystal – a much more durable and far more scratch resistant material. Apple has already experimented with sapphire on the lens of the iPhone 5’s camera, and so fare, the results have been extremely good.
So, why the sudden change from glass to sapphire? Affordability! Here’s MIT’s explanation from the report (via Daring Fireball):
Sapphire, a crystalline form of aluminum oxide, probably won’t ever be as cheap as Gorilla Glass, the durable material from Corning that’s used to make screens on iPhones and other smartphones. A Gorilla Glass display costs less than $3, while a sapphire display would cost about $30. But that could fall below $20 in a couple of years thanks to increased competition and improving technology, says Eric Virey, an analyst for the market research firm Yole Développement. And since sapphire performs better than glass, that price could make it cheap enough to compete, he says.
Sapphire is harder than any other natural material except diamond; by some measures, it’s three times stronger than Gorilla Glass, and it is also about three times more scratch resistant
Many smartphone manufacturers are reportedly considering switching to sapphire instead of glass – and although Apple is not specifically mentioned, the fact they they are already experimenting with the material makes the iPhone a prime candidate. Despite the increase affordability of sapphire, however, materials such as Gorilla Glass are still considerably cheaper.
The real question is whether switching to sapphire displays would be worth it in the long run for manufacturers, as it would result in fewer service calls from customers over broken displays.