Apple patent shines new light on potential iDevices made of sapphire

By , Sep 12, 2013

apple-sapphire-touchid

A newly-published patent suggests Apple is serious about bling. Not for diamond-encrusted gadgets, but iDevices made of sapphire, the second-hardest material on earth. The iPhone maker envisions smartphone screens able to resist scratches and breakage with bodies tough enough to withstand drops and spills.

Although up till now sapphire has been used for smaller items, such as the Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 5s, the patent application outlines much wider application, according to a Thursday report…

The patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office titled ‘Sapphire Laminates’ indicates Apple “is actively working on processes that can make the expensive gemstone a viable option for the mass production of consumer electronics,” writes AppleInsider.

While incredible strong (sapphire – or corundum – includes titanium), the same properties make the material expensive and difficult to machine. Because of this, Apple’s invention outlines way to build laminates of sapphire mixed with glass or steel.

As noted in the patent language, the cost of sapphire is only part of the problem. The same properties that make corundum an asset also make it difficult to prepare.

Apple gives the example of cutting and polishing the material, which is more time consuming when applying traditional techniques.

In addition, the machines are rapidly worn down due to the stone’s hardness.

Apple’s patent application specifically describes the lamination of sapphire sheets, as well as sapphire-on-sapphire or sapphire-on-glass applications.

apple-sapphire-patent

The crystalline nature of sapphire lends itself to dual layers, permitting one 0.55mm sheet to protect against a screen getting scratched while a second layer protects against screen breakage.

A final sapphire laminate is just 1mm thick.

Aside from guarding against damaged screens, sapphire laminates could also work alongside steel to protect iPhone bodies, such as the glass backplate of the iPhone 4S.

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  • Prasoon Singh

    So no more scratches?

    • RarestName

      Lesser scratches

  • RarestName

    I’ve literally thrown my iPhone 4S around and my glass back plate is still fine without noticeable scratches. I’ve also dropped it so many times that I lost count.

    • patrick

      Then you’re just lucky,
      Mine fell one time, only 1 meter, crashing both front and back at the same time

      • James

        Perhaps. Or perhaps you and everyone else that’s happened to are just unlucky. I’ve dropped mine more than enough times without a case and never had any major issues.

      • Tor

        I’ve never had a case or anything on my iPhone. About a month ago my iPhone slipped out of my hand and went flying down the stairs (wooden floors). Still no scratches or damage. I’ve also dropped my iPhone a few times before (not as badly as that though)

      • Steelahlive

        Well i’ve owned iPhone’s 3/4/5 – iPads 1/2/3/mini – iPods 4 – They’ve all been in otterbox style cases except my iphone 5 and mini – both “naked” without even thin film screen protectors. I have no marks on my mini – but the phone has 2 big scratches going from the bottom thru the home button, and onto the screen about 2 inches in length. Like a claw mark… I take care of my products and i must say – you really have to turn the phone into the light to see these marks – but accidents happen. All other devices looked like day 1 purchase quality – pardon maybe some dust here and there.

  • rasengan720 .

    as if the rates for a off contract iphone is not high enough, now giving a sapphire layer to make it more scratch resistant? yeah now it will be really affordable :P

  • Stefano

    Let’s hope for a cheaper cultured sapphire screen.

  • GaugePrower

    I actually used to think about this idea ever since the iPhone 4 came out. I collect watches, and my Invictas all have a very durable sapphire crystal covering their faces that I’ve never been able to scratch. Invicta makes big watches, 50mm, 60mm in size, so there’s lots of crystal on these watches, and the pricing for these watches falls in line with Apple mobile products, so I’m pretty sure that Apple could source some quality crystal out for a good price to keep the handset cost the same, or with just a slight bump up. This screen durability would put the little screen replacer guys at the malls out of business for sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple also went the way of the S4 active and adde in some type of light water proofing. However, from a business standpoint, these innovations may cause a loss of revenue due to less people feeling the need to pay extra for Apple Care+ and Apple will always be a money business so it will be interesting to see how this pans out.

    • Steelahlive

      gotta figure – they’re working on a Laminate process….SO, is this going to be a Sapphire Dust+bonding agent as stated in the article, steel and titanium are used as well. So I can only guess they’re not really striking out pure sapphire from the mines and looking for only the perfect ones – they’re pressure cooking em into their required size I would guess. IDK – just really speculating on it as I don’t know enough about the process they use currently to get this sort of stuff out there.

      • Steelahlive

        additional thoughts – Manufactured “Fake” diamonds are already and have been possible for years. AT a cost that is not counterproductive to the said product. Why not just do that and be done with it =-P

  • mehrab

    I never had a case on my 4s/5 dropped them a couple pf times but they still faaineee