Manufactured sapphire is not quite the material you would expect to see on a phone's display. But, a report in the MIT Technology Review got our interests piqued.
According to the report, sapphire could get cheap enough in the future to be used as smartphone displays. Such is the durability of manufactured sapphire that the report suggests that it won't crack when dropped, or be scratched with keys. Sapphire or crystalline aluminium oxide is not even remotely close to being cheap, and researchers say it probably won't ever come close to the price of Gorilla Glass – the material currently used to make smartphone displays.
To give you an idea about the costs, a Gorilla Glass display would cost less than $3, whereas a sapphire display would set you back by $30. However, an optimistic Eric Virey, an analyst with market research firm Yole Developpement, says that the cost could possibly go below $20 in a couple of years, owing to advanced technology and growing competition. Sapphire, according to the MIT report, does better than glass and therefore, if it does get below $20, it would make it competitive.
What do you think?
Interestingly, the report adds that sapphire is harder than any other natural material barring diamond and is three times stronger than Gorilla Glass. It is also three times more scratch-resistant than Gorilla Glass. Virey, in fact, adds that big phone-brands are “considering using sapphire to replace glass.” He says, “I’m convinced that some will start testing the water and release some high-end smartphones using sapphire in 2013.”
The report also suggests a cheaper alternative to using pure sapphire. It involves laminating a very thin layer of sapphire with a cheaper, transparent material. This brings down the cost to a point of bringing it closer to that of glass used in mobile phone displays, while maintaining a lot of sapphire's performance.
In fact, GT Advanced Technologies in Nashua, New Hampshire is working at making sapphire sheets thinner than a human hair. As for the prices, the MIT report states that GT is “more optimistic” than Virey. It states that sapphire displays may cost just three to four times of the cost of displays made from Gorilla Glass.
The report adds, “People at the company say prices will fall further as GT improves its furnaces, and as the manufacturers that buy those furnaces streamline their operations.”
Reportedly, there are many other companies that are working towards reducing the cost of sapphire. Some of these include Rubicon Technologies in the United States, Monocrystal in Russia and Sapphire Technology in South Korea. It however adds, “But they’ll have to continue to contend with the incumbent technologies—Gorilla Glass and similar materials offered by other manufacturers. This year Corning introduced a new version of the material that it says is about twice as resistant to scratches. It could be in products later this year.”
While there is no saying as to when these will actually become available, it is one development that we are looking forward to. What do you think?