Apple said to be working with GT Advanced on “super sapphire” screens

GT Advanced (furnaces, Pocketnow 001)

Apple and GT are continuing their work to strengthen sapphire, according to a new report from Wall Street Forensics. The site says the pair are hoping to reduce the material’s “fundamental flaw of cracking,” as well as improve its reflective properties.

On September 18th, the US Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that covers new processes to both aid in the strengthening of sapphire, and cut manufacturing costs—a major point of contention with sapphire critics.

Here are a few highlights from the patent:

  • Layer of alumina adheres to the surface of the sapphire member filling all defects in the surface forming a pristine new layer that also provides isolation from damage.
  • By sealing the substrate surface defects the weakest points on the surface are reduced and/or eliminated.
  • Sealing the defects helps prevent force from directly impacting the defects and causing additional damage
  • Creating a uniform layer puts a barrier between destructive external force and the stress risers in the defects.
  • The barrier may have the effect of spreading out the force of an impact and limit the localized stress at the defect.
  • Coatings may have different strength, hardness, oleophobic properties, optic properties (including anti-reflectiveness, color transmittance, etc.), and so on.
  • By recrystallizing the coating material through annealing, the overall strength of the coating and resistance to scratches, cracking, and impact-related failures may be increased.
  • Cost savings could be achieved by reducing the manufacturing steps necessary to provide an ideal finish on the surfaces of the substrate.
  • A reduction in substrate thickness may produce significant cost savings.
  • Devices may include electronic devices such as a mobile phone, tablet computer, notebook computer, instrument window, appliance screen as well as non-electronic devices such as mechanical watches which utilize a similar hard window.

In the months leading up to the iPhone 6 event, several rumors called for the new handset to feature sapphire screen covers, but obviously they never materialized. We’ve heard various reasons why, but it sounds like the gist is the material just wasn’t ready.

That doesn’t mean we won’t ever see sapphire iPhone screens though. Apple didn’t build a large factory in Arizona to make camera lenses and Watch covers, and looking at initial iPhone 6 drop tests, current screen cover tech is long overdue for an overhaul.

[WSF via iPhone in Canada]