During a recent Morgan Stanley Technology conference, Corning senior vice president, Tony Tripeny, ripped into sapphire crystal, saying it isn’t a sound alternative on mobile devices. As rumors heat up around Apple’s sapphire facility in Arizona, many have been lead to believe the Cupertino company will use sapphire in its next handset. But Tripeny argues that sapphire is “environmentally unfriendly” and offers “shorter battery life.” Being the senior VP of a big glass company, you would assume Tripeny is an authority on such topics.
Apple isn’t specifically mentioned by Tripeny in his conversation, but iPhones have employed use of Corning’s Gorilla Glass in the past. A move to sapphire could knock Apple off of Corning’s customer list. Is that why Tripeny is bashing sapphire? Below is Tripeny’s response in full:
When we look at it, we see a lot of disadvantages of Sapphire versus Gorilla Glass. It’s about 10 times more expensive. It’s about 1.6 times heavier. It’s environmentally unfriendly. It takes about 100 times more energy to generate a Sapphire crystal than it does glass. It transmits less light which… means either dimmer devices or shorter battery life. It continues to break. I think while it’s a scratch resistant product it still breaks and our testing says that Gorilla Glass (can take) about 2.5 times more pressure that it can take…Sapphire on. So when we look at it, we think from an overall industry and trend that is not attractive in consumer electronics.
Apple has an entire planet in Arizona dedicated to making sapphire, and reports suggest the company has acquired enough materials to make between 100 and 200 million displays for iPhones. Tim Cook has said the company has aggressive plans for sapphire in the future, though it’s unclear what project the technology will be used for. As it is, Apple integrates laser-cut sapphire into its Touch ID sensor, introduced in the iPhone 5s. While some reports believe it’ll be in a future smartphone, there are others that say it will be used exclusively for Apple’s fabled iWatch. If it’s the latter, then perhaps Tripeny is just trying to set some expectations so that investors don’t think it’s losing a major client.
Apple clearly sees sapphire from a different angle, but we’re still not sure what the company is using it for. From what we’ve seen demonstrated on video, the use of sapphire could make a device nearly indestructible, which would obviously be a huge attraction for users. But if it’s that much heavier, and is detrimental to battery life like Tripeny says, then one would assume sapphire wouldn’t be a good fit in a future iPhone. So maybe in the iWatch? Or even something else altogether?