Sapphire screens may soon replace glass in smartphones

sapphire watch face - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

There are all kinds of rumors and predictions in the tech world every day, but most are the standard fare of faster processor, better screen and newer software. What you don’t see as often is a prediction that is based on science, and could change how almost every smartphone is made. However, if a prediction from MIT’s Technology Review turns out to be true, then the material used for almost every smartphone’s display could soon change from glass to something much better: sapphire.

Gorilla Glass may be strong, but it is only around a seven on the Mohs hardness scale, even though some claim a hardness of up to nine. Sapphire, on the other hand, is a true nine on the scale, just below diamonds. This wouldn’t make sapphire screens invincible, but they would much more resistant to damage than regular soda lime glass or even Gorilla Glass screens. In fact, Apple uses sapphire instead of glass to cover the camera sensor on the iPhone 5, and the military uses sapphire to make transparent armor.

However, even with all these benefits, the one reason that sapphire screens haven’t become standard fare for smartphones is the price. According to Technology Review, a standard Gorilla Glass display costs around $3, and a similar display made of sapphire would be a pricey $30. Fortunately, that is is predicted to change in the very near future, which analysts believe could result in newer smartphones being released with sapphire screens. The predicted $20 price drop would still leave sapphire screens costing about $10, $7 more than the Gorilla Glass variant, but the better durability of sapphire (said to be three times that of Gorilla Glass by some measures) should make up for the extra cost.

If sapphire does drop in price as predicted, it would make a lot of sense for manufacturers to begin offering sapphire screens. Sapphire has already replaced glass for many high-end watch faces such as the one in the image above, for the very reasons that would make it perfect for smartphone displays. Obviously, some research effort will have to go into switching from glass to sapphire screens, but the end result should be worth it if the price of sapphire drops as expected.

In fact, with the luck I’ve had with my Nexus 7, I wouldn’t even be opposed to paying an extra $30 for a sapphire display. In fact, I would be quite happy if one of Motorola’s future devices had a Kevlar casing and sapphire screen, although that probably won’t be happening anytime soon.

[MIT Technology Review]
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Aaron Orquia

Aaron Orquia is an associate editor at Pocketables. He has been using Android and Linux since he bought his first computer years ago, and his interest in technology, software, and tweaking both to work just right has only grown stronger since then. His current gadgets include a OnePlus One, a Pebble smartwatch, and an Acer C720 Chromebook.

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4 thoughts on “Sapphire screens may soon replace glass in smartphones

  • Avatar of JRDemaskus

    My 32+ month old Dell Streak with Gorilla Glass 1, does not have a mark on it.
    If we have to customize our hardware, I would not pay the extra cost for sapphire.
    If they want to give it to me as a standard feature, then OK.

    • Avatar of Aaron Orquia

      Some people seem to have great luck with Gorilla Glass, but the first smartphone I ever broke had Gorilla Glass, and I’ve always managed to end up with a scratched device whether it has Gorilla Glass or not. It may be something that I do, but personally I don’t really find Gorilla Glass as durable as others seem to. That is why I would, at least personally, pay for an upgrade to sapphire.

  • I think sapphire crystal is an awesome idea. In high-end watches, the crystal is almost impossible to scratch or crack. That being said, I would bet that the crystal used in watches (4 mm in some models) is way thicker than a phone screen. I would pay the $30 extra. I don’t think I’d pay much more than that, though. You aren’t scratching a sapphire screen with your keys (in pocket) and you probably wouldn’t crack the screen by dropping it.

  • I’d pay an extra $50 or so to upgrade a phone with a sapphire screen, but I’m very picky about scratches on my devices.


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