Some stellar reporting from Mark Gurman of 9to5Mac reveals that Apple sure is antsy to get its new-fangled sapphire plant in Arizona up and running. Recall that Apple this past winter announced plans to open up a new sapphire production facility in cooperation with GT Advanced. Naturally, the rumor mill started churning because, well, what does Apple plan to do with a boatload of sapphire?
As it stands now, Apple uses sapphire as the protective lens for the iPhone camera and on the home button on the iPhone 5s. But could there be other planned uses going forward? As the second most scratch resistant substance on the planet (behind diamonds, of course), some have speculated that the next iPhone screen may be comprised entirely of sapphire. Of course, the real rumor mongers would have you believe that this is all in anticipation of the long-rumored iWatch.
In any event, onto the scoop.
Gurman was able to get his hands on correspondence between U.S. Foreign Trade Zone officials and Apple's Deputy Director of Global Trade Compliance. Therein, we see that Apple wants to get things up and running by February. Even more tantalizing, though, is how Apple describes the plant's sapphire operation, which Apple refers to as Project Cascade.
Project Cascade will conduct high-tech manufacturing of intermediate goods/components for consumer electronics. All finished components will be exported. This high-tech manufacturing process will create a critical new sub-component of Apple Products to be used in the manufacture of the consumer electronics that will be imported and then sold globally. By pulling this process into the U.S., Apple will be using cutting edge, new technology to enhance and improve the consumer products, making them best in class per product type.
It stands to reason that Apple isn't just manufacturing an immense amount of sapphire solely for use as iPhone home buttons and camera lenses. Further, Apple describing the sapphire as a material to be used to "create a critical new sub-component" is particularly intriguing.