Sapphire Technology

Sapphire – Could Your Next Display be Made of This Tough Material?

August 15, 2014 - Written By Cory McNutt

We all like the name, sapphire, but we really don’t know what it is, other than a gem used in expensive jewelry.  We will soon hear more and more about it as sapphire manufacturers – yes, the clear sapphire is ‘grown’ in a laboratory – push to have it as our next display on our smartphones to replace the current most popular choice, Gorilla Glass made by Corning glass.  Here at Android Headlines, Alex just tested the first mainstream smartphone with a sapphire display – I included his video below – and he found it to be everything they claimed.  Kyocera even included a jar full of rocks, coins and steel wool to put it through to the test.  The one problem with a sapphire display – it will cost about 3-4 times what a Gorilla Glass display will cost.  Once they would get into full production, the costs would eventually come down, but not as low as glass.

When we think of a sapphire, we generally think of the color blue.  Sapphires that are mined naturally have trace elements, like copper, magnesium or iron that tends to give them a blue, purple or yellow hue.  We cannot have that on our smartphone display, so they use synthetic sapphire made by machines and they keep out all of those nasty trace elements, allowing it to be crystal clear. Speaking of crystals, that is exactly what sapphire is – we cannot call it sapphire glass – it is a crystal made of aluminum oxide.  Glass can be altered or ‘morphed’ to change its qualities, such as Corning did to produce Gorilla Glass, which is certainly glass, but not the same glass used in a window, for instance.  That is why we have Gorilla Glass 4 coming out in a few months – with each iteration or alteration they improve its properties of strength and durability.  The properties of sapphire cannot be altered, but fortunately, that works out great for a tough display…which is what you would call it – a sapphire display.

On the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, the sapphire ranks number 9, only topped by the number 10 diamond.  Its scratch-resistant property is why it is being touted as a good material for our displays that get put in and out of pockets and pocketbooks many times each day – rivets, keys, chains or makeup cases would do no harm.  This comes at a price other than money – because sapphire is denser than glass, it weighs more, which is a consideration with a mobile device. While sapphire is not new to the tech world – it melts at an extremely high temperature – so it has been used by industries that benefit from this high resistance to heat.  Corning, known for glass, manufactured sapphire, but stopped 30 years ago because of its expense and lack of applications to make it profitable.  Kyocera, based in Japan and maker of the smartphone we tested, has been making sapphire for 41 years.  So if you want a smartphone with a sapphire display, you can either purchase a Kyocera Brigadier or a luxury Vertu smartphone that cost thousands of dollars.

Will we see a sapphire display on our smartphones in the near future?  It is possible that we may see a type of hybrid – GT Advanced Technologies developed a process to apply a thin layer of sapphire over glass, much like a laminate.  This way we could get the benefits of cheaper and lighter glass, but the toughness and scratch resistance of sapphire. Please hit us up on our Google+ Page and let us know if you are willing to pay more for a sapphire display or are you perfectly content with your Gorilla Glass…as always, we would love to hear from you.