Here's Why Apple Didn't Use An 'Unbreakable' Sapphire Screen For The iPhone 6 (AAPL)

Jay Yarow

Before Apple released the iPhone 6, multiple reports/rumors indicated it would come with a sapphire-based screen

Sapphire, according to various accounts, is a wonder material that doesn't scratch. It was also believed to be unbreakable. The current iPhone uses Corning's Gorilla Glass, which is fairly scratchproof but not as good as sapphire.

An unbreakable iPhone would be a godsend. (There are two things people really want from an iPhone — long battery life and an unbreakable screen.) 

Unfortunately, it seems all the reports on Apple delivering an unbreakable iPhone were wrong. It also seems that sapphire is not the wonder material that many people think it is. It actually breaks easier than glass.

Last week, longtime analyst Tim Bajarin wrote a story for Time magazine about sapphire screens for the iPhone.

"My sources tell me that sapphire was never targeted for the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus and its role in future iPhones hasn’t even been decided yet," Bajarin says. This runs counter to what was being reported close to release of the iPhone 6, and even days after the iPhone 6 was announced.

While it may eventually show up on the iPhone, Bajarin says there are a number of problems with sapphire. 

  • Sapphire is thicker and bulkier than glass, which is a problem for today's light, thin smartphones. Glass can be made thinner than a sheet of paper, and then chemically strengthened, Bajarin says.
  • A sheet of sapphire is 10 times the cost of a sheet of glass, which would lead to another $100 in cost for the iPhone. Consumers are unlikely to pay another $100 for the iPhone.
  • Sapphire is worse for battery life. Glass is more transparent, so light travels through it easier. To get a sapphire screen as bright as a glass screen would require more energy.
  • It turns out that sapphire ismore likely than glass to break when you drop it. This is the biggest problem of them all, obviously. While sapphire is good at preventing scratches, it's not good at preventing cracks from forming. Those cracks eventually lead to the screen shattering. Glass has chemicals added to it that prevent cracks from growing into a big problem.

Sapphire is still used for the glass on the iPhone's camera because it's more scratch resistant. It's also used on some of the Apple Watches. Sapphire glass is less of a risk on a watch because there is little risk of dropping a watch. 

The bottom line here: If you want an unbreakable iPhone, buy a good case

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