WSJ: higher-end 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 models to get sapphire displays

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The Wall Street Journal reports this afternoon that Apple plans to use sapphire crystal displays in higher-end models of both the 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch iPhone 6 models this fall. The news directly contradicts recent reports, which said the company had scrapped such plans due to complexity and cost.

According to today’s report, though, the firm is still very much pondering the idea, and plans to move forward with it if it can get enough sapphire produced in time for launch. The outlet says that Apple may charge more for the phones due to the material’s higher costs, a long-running theory this year…

The Journal’s Daisuke Wakabayashi reports:

Apple is considering using sapphire screens in more-expensive models of the two new, larger iPhones it plans to debut this fall, if it can get enough of the material, people familiar with the matter say. Some analysts expect Apple to charge more for the phones than previous new models, because of increased component costs.

If the use of sapphire leads to fewer broken screens, Apple may save money in warranty costs. But Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi says those savings likely wouldn’t offset sapphire’s higher cost.

If Apple doesn’t plan to raise the prices for the sapphire-covered iPhones, the higher build cost would have a major impact on Apple’s profit margins. But this wouldn’t be the first time the company has paid big bucks to differentiate its products from its rivals—see its $360 million AuthenTec purchase.

We’ve seen several [alleged] iPhone 6 front panels leak over the past month or so, and although they were originally believed to be sapphire-covered, further testing eventually proved that this wasn’t the case. The consensus is now that they’re coated in some type of hybrid sapphire-Gorilla Glass material.

There are many advantages to sapphire crystal, as it’s a very thin, high quality material. It’s also extremely durable, and thought to be virtually un-scratchable—making it the perfect candidate for a smartphone display. Costs and complex production, however, have kept it out of reach for most manufacturers.

In addition to larger, (possibly sapphire-covered) displays, the iPhone 6 is expected to feature a new hardware design and several internal improvements including an A8 chip, enhanced cameras, and some new sensors for tracking various activities. It’s believed that Apple plans to unveil it on September 9.