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Network World - 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.
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.