Sapphires are the iOSphere's new best friend when it comes to iPhone 6. It used to be quad-core processors and Liquidmetal bodies.
Based largely on Apple’s massive investment in GTAT’s sapphire furnaces, the iOSphere is spinning out scenarios about the virtues of unbreakable screens even if, as this week rumored, they’ll cost way more than plain, old, boring Corning Gorilla Glass.
+ ALSO ON NETWORK WORLD Apple iPhoneys 6 +
Also this week: the iPhone 6 will get a new name and we can only pray that it’s not the iPhab; Apple is in such dire straits that it can’t wait until September to do … well, something. Anything. Finally, if you were expecting Apple to integrate its LTE modem into its next 64-bit processor, don’t.
You read it here second.
iPhone 6 price will be significantly, dramatically higher due to sapphire and stuff
It is now Rumor Orthodoxy that Apple will announce not one but two 2014 iPhones with larger-than-four-inch screens, both of them having synthetic sapphire display covers. “The iPhone 6 release later this year will bring a larger screen with a Sapphire display cover according to many credible rumors….,” says GottaBeMobile’s Josh Smith, who doesn’t bother explaining his criteria for what constitutes a credible rumor versus an incredible rumor.
But, overall, the iOSphere still doesn’t have a clear idea of the economics of sapphire production and integration into the supply chain, or a, ahem, credible idea of why Apple is making such a huge investment in it. “Recently, new reports suggested the use of sapphire glass screen in iPhone 6 will significantly increase the production cost,” writes Karla Danica Figuerres, in a post at International Business Times. “The sapphire glass manufacturer gets a big share in the price boost.”
“In a nutshell, sapphire is an incredibly transparent and much stronger than the Gorilla Glass material that will be a great addition to the iPhone 6, although it will dramatically increase its cost,” she summarizes, somewhat confusingly.
The idea that Apple will “dramatically” or even “significantly” increase the iPhone’s price (Figuerres uses “cost” when she clearly means “price”), to improve scratch- and impact-resistance seems wrongheaded, given that only a subset of iPhone owners will value those improvements enough to pay a higher price. Apple increased the price of the iPad mini with Retina display because it bet, rightly, that the higher-resolution screen was a manifest new value that users were willing to pay for.
The “reports” Figuerres references in this case actually amount to one post at the South China Morning Post, which simply asserts that “The arrival of sapphire means a dramatic increase in the cost of making an iPhone, as sapphire is far more expensive than the present Gorilla Glass, but it remains unknown whether the price of a single iPhone will go up."
It’s true that currently larger-size sapphire wafers are much more expensive than glass, though the smaller wafers used in camera lens covers, for example, are only modestly more expensive. The key question is how quickly production costs will drop for the larger sizes, something both Apple and its sapphire furnace partner GTAT are aggressively pursuing.
The Post later asserts that “The new iPhone screen will be made entirely from scratch-resistant sapphire crystal glass,” according to its anonymous supply chain sources.
This assertion seems unlikely. First, it’s not at all clear that Apple’s late 2013 investment of $587 million in GTAT’s sapphire furnaces -- making Apple a major source of raw synthetic sapphire – is for material to be used in 2014 iPhones or iPads. Apple clearly has made a strategic bet on sapphire but it’s not clear when or how it intends to bring sapphire to market beyond its current use as a cover for cameras or fingerprint sensors. Apple’s expanded use of sapphire, depending on what it’s used for, could be scheduled for 2015.
Second, nearly all of the iOSphere speculation and conviction about sapphire is that Apple will use it to create a cover, replacing the current Gorilla Glass from Corning, for the underlying display panel. Besides the current, much higher costs for larger sapphire sheets compared to Gorilla Glass, Apple and GTAT also face an array of challenges dealing with a material that’s also heavier and more difficult to work with at different stages of the manufacturing/assembling process that results in a finished iPhone. That’s a process that takes time and money, and involves a number of other companies in Apple’s Asian supply chain.
A pure sapphire cover to the phone’s screen would improve scratch resistance and possibly impact resistance. (Less costly and more workable but not as impact resistant would be sapphire laminated to glass.) But the value to users is analogous to the value of insurance – you don’t really like paying premiums, until and unless something goes wrong (although you are “buying” peace of mind). iPhone screens are scratched and sometimes break, but the iPhone doesn’t seem to be identified in users’ minds as a phone prone to either. In other words, there’s not a huge problem for which sapphire is the solution.
Nor is it clear that an expensive scratch resistance technology, by itself, would benefit Apple in a big way, at least enough to warrant an investment of over a half-billion dollars. By contrast, the benefits of controlling your own microprocessor design, which Apple has done for years with its A series chips, are much clearer. An advertising campaign about “the unbreakable iPhone 6 screen” doesn’t seem likely to draw vast numbers of new buyers.
But sapphire might make sense if it’s part of a major redesign of the entire display assembly. Such a redesign could include a more integrated design, a shift to OLED, possibly higher resolution, and performance improvements, while maintaining color accuracy.
iPhone 6 won’t be called “iPhone”
You can almost feel Michael Briggs’ shock as you read his breathless post at DesignTrend.
“Could the next-generation Apple smartphone launch with a name other than the iPhone?” he wonders.
Probably, if the rumors are, you know, credible.
This rumor is courtesy of the Chinese-language “Economic Daily News” based in Taiwan. Here’s the Google Translate version of their post.
According to EDN, “Apple will also launch 5.6-inch smart machine experiment models, but the name is not called iPhone, pioneered the use of sapphire glass screen.” Later in the post: “In addition, iPhone is a single from the first generation models, but in order to meet the market demand for large-size screen, Apple also has plans to launch 5.6-inch smartphone, but mainly experimental models, the name will not be named the iPhone.”
How can you “launch” an “experimental model?” You can start testing prototypes or experimental designs. Maybe 5.6-inch not-the-iPhone won’t be called “iPhone” because it will be, you know, an experiment.
Because the alternative, iPhab, is just…not.
iPhone 6 will be announced before September 2014
Because “Apple Can’t Afford to Wait Until September,” according to Motley Fool’s Ashraf Eassa, in a post that combines almost every rhetorical cliché in the iOSphere’s lexicon.
If you use these clichés, you, too, can sound courageous and insightful.
First, state the obvious in such a way that it sounds like you are the first one to have discovered it, and Apple is still in the dark. Use the phrase “it’s clear.”
“It's clear that a fairly large portion of the smartphone market (no pun intended) is moving toward these larger smartphone form factors,” he writes.
Juxtapose unrelated concepts, and create a false logical link between them. Use the phrase “it stands to reason.”
“Given the company's willingness to release something like the iPhone 5c to address lower price points, it stands to reason that larger phones (perhaps a 4.7-inch and a 5.5-inch as rumored) would form a pretty compelling product stack,” Eassa says.
Use the phrase “that being said,” to suggest that a new insight lies just around the corner, even though it’s not. The “probably” is vital here. “That being said, Apple probably needs to move quickly if it is to truly capitalize on this opportunity.”
Apple probably needs to be quick because “competition from the likes of Motorola/Lenovo, HTC, LG, and others is intensifying.” That would be the intense competition from a group of companies none of which have succeeded in making a profit from their smartphone business.
Address the question of why Apple hasn’t embraced the Right Course of Action. Use the phrase “an obvious reason” and contrast it with the phrase “no choice.”
“Now, the obvious reason that Apple may not be so excited to pursue such phones is that it would likely take a gross margin hit, but the company really has no choice if it wants to maintain/expand share in the premium segment of the market.”
No. Choice. None. Zero. Nada. Zip.
Imply that Apple can’t keep up with “innovation” and Doom awaits.
“The innovation engine across the industry at large is already moving extremely quickly (even if the rest of the market is bludgeoning its margins in order to compete in this increasingly crowded market), so Apple is unlikely to be able to wait until September before it has to pretty aggressively cut prices on the iPhone 5s in order to maintain its market share at the high end,” Eassa concludes.
It’s rare to find the words “Apple” and “aggressively cut prices” in the same sentence. That’s because aggressive price cuts haven’t been a signature feature of Apple’s marketing since…well, forever.
Apple’s situation is dire. Use the phrase “Apple needs to…”
“Apple is going to need to ‘wow’ consumers with a next generation iPhone in order to fend off the Android hordes from eating into its outsized portion of the smartphone industry's profits,” Eassa writes.
That’s original, eh? The necessity for Apple to ‘wow’ consumers. Apple’s approach to wow is typically in the first iteration of a product category. It puts a lot of effort into designing it. Then, it puts lot of effort into continually improving it. There’s little evidence that consumers are wowed by the addition of a few megapixels to the Apple camera, or a few cores to the CPU, or even just to a higher resolution screen, and buy the iPhone as a result. What they’re convinced by is the quality of the overall user experience.
Draw your phony argument together with a false choice.
“There's no question that Apple can do it – it's proven itself time and again as the designer of the world's best smartphones – but the question is whether Apple would rather milk the current design for all it's worth or move quickly to a next generation design more quickly,” Eassa writes.
Finally, cover your butt.
“As always, time will tell.”
iPhone 6 will not have an Apple-designed, integrated LTE modem
It’s not clear why Fudzilla’s Fuad Abazovic considers this revelation important. Essentially, he seems to be saying that the Next iPhone will have the same basic LTE hardware setup as the current iPhone – a separate Qualcomm LTE chip.
“Our well informed industry sources are quite sure that Apple is not working on its own LTE modem,” Abazovic writes. “To put things in perspective, high-end phone chips such as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 come in an SoC [System on Chip] package that includes the LTE 150Mbits per second capable modem. Apple A7 [the 64-bit in the iPhone 5s] doesn’t have that and neither does Intel, Nvidia or Samsung with its SoC.”
AnandTech’s indepth iPhone 5s review concluded that Apple stayed with the Qualcomm MDM9x15 LTE modem (or a variant of it), without support for LTE-Advanced features such as carrier aggregation and Category 4 150Mbps downlink make it likely that we’re looking at a MDM9x15 derivative at best. Apple might judge the time is right for a 2014 iPhone to support LTE-Advanced (and possibly 802.11ac Wi-Fi).
The Fudzilla sources imply that Apple will do so, as it has in the past, with a Qualcomm chip separate from the phone’s A Series processor.