Will the next iPhone have a tougher screen for a higher price?

15 Aug 2014

Image via Bloom Design/Shutterstock

If the new iPhone we expect to be announced next month is toughened up with a sapphire screen, it could save on cracked displays but might hurt consumers’ wallets.

Sapphire is certainly a more expensive material than glass, but it’s a worthy option for Apple’s newest flagship on account of it being extra tough and, perhaps, offering greater protection.

Sapphire is used by Apple to protect the iPhone’s camera lens and fingerprint reader, but the California tech giant is reportedly now making the costly move of enveloping the entire display in this material.

With any luck, this will put an end to busted and cracked screens – a chief complaint from iPhone users – but there is no guarantee.

Corning Gorilla Glass currently occupies the display portion of the majority of high-end smartphones – including the iPhone – and, as such, has proven its worth as a means of protection, whereas a sapphire-made screen from Apple will have to stand up to the test in the real world.

Apple’s US$700m bet on Sapphire

With an investment of almost US$700m in its production, it appears Apple is willing to take a chance on sapphire.

The iPhone-maker purchased a manufacturing facility in Arizona that, according to an analyst speaking to The Wall Street Journal, has the capacity to produce twice as much sapphire as is now produced by nearly 100 manufacturers worldwide.

In this plant, GT Advanced Technologies will produce synthetic sapphire which, in turn, is used to produce sapphire glass, a transparent and extraordinarily scratch-resistant material that has a value of 9 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness – the highest being 10. Who wouldn’t want a smartphone coated in this miracle material?

Pay now to save your screen later?

It has its disadvantages, though. Gorilla Glass claims to be less reflective and therefore provide smartphone users with a better view in direct sunlight, while higher-density sapphire can also add weight to a smartphone’s sleek body.

The biggest hurdle of all, though, is cost. According to the WSJ report, a sapphire screen could cost US$16 to produce compared to just US$3 for Gorilla Glass.

Unless Apple decides to bear the brunt of the production cost in its profit margin, what this could mean is a pricier iPhone for customers. Of course, it also means they’re less likely to be stung with a bill for screen repair in the long run, so it might just be a good trade-off.

Cracked smartphone image by Bloom Design via Shutterstock

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.