The size, shape and front of the iPhone 6 have all been the subject of a lot of speculation but it looks like the hard-to-scratch or break sapphire glass will not, after all, be one of its major assets. Sapphire is supposed to make the iPhone screen all but unbreakable. Today’s news is that sapphire is unlikely to happen this time round.
Here’s one strong clue. CNET and other tech-outlets report a supply chain insight on glass supply:
In a report released Monday, LEDinside analysts from market researcher Trendforce said they have yet to see the necessary orders for sapphire glass wending their way through the supply chain in time to meet an expected September launch for a 4.7-inch iPhone 6. A new iPhone with sapphire glass could still roll out in limited numbers, they noted.
The Register is more definitive that Trendforce sees no uptick in sapphire manufacture. The reasoning also finds support from an earnings’ call at Corning, the suppliers of Apple’s existing Gorilla Glass. A Seeking Alpha analysis by Mark Hibben suggests there just isn’t enough evidence of a substantial fall-off in orders at Corning to suggest a switch to sapphire away from Gorilla Glass.
There is pretty universal agreement, however, that the absence of a sapphire screen will not dent iPhone 6 sales. The iPhone remains the jewel in Apple’s crown, a crown that is now growing into services of various kinds (such as enterprise, autos and health).
It’s notable that when Apple announced its plans for its new Health Kit it was specifically for the iPhone. Tim Cook seems to be satisfied that the iPhone will carry the company through to a new generation of services in music too where its Beats’ acquisition gives it a strong position alongside iTunes Radio.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One further point made by Hibben is that the production of sapphire is still extremely expensive. The fact that Apple is funding its own captive supplier in Arizona doesn’t necessarily alter the economics just yet. It may take unusual steps like using solar power as energy to help bring cost down. Hibben quotes an MIT study that puts the additional cost of sapphire as x10 Gorilla Glass production cost.
However, as Nigam Arora points out here on Forbes, Apple has tried to innovate around this.
Still you might ask, with Apple’s margins isn’t it worth a luxury component to protect users from scratches and cracks? Apple, after all, is a top of the range product. Bearing that in mind Cupertino may still have a surprise in store but sapphire is no longer the certainty it seemed a few weeks back.