Corning has just announced a new material for smartphone screens, which combines the super strength of Gorilla Glass with scratch-resistance nearly as good as sapphire.
Gorilla Glass made from Sapphire
The new project, currently known as Project Phire was announced on Friday at Corning’s investor meeting in New York by company executive James Clapping. He said that the new material will be sold later this year, but there were few other details available yet.
“We told you last year that sapphire was great for scratch performance but didn’t fare well when dropped,” said Clappin, president of Corning Glass Technologies. “So, we created a product that offers the same superior damage resistance and drop performance of Gorilla Glass 4 with scratch resistance that approaches sapphire.”
Corning actually makes the most cash from glass for televisions and fibre-optics, but Gorilla Glass is the company’s most well known product amongst consumers, and has become the dominant company in glass for mobile device screens, including Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, as well as Samsung’s Galaxy Note Edge and Galaxy Note 4.
Last year, there were concerns that Gorilla Glass would be replaced on Apple devices, as the iPhone manufacturer invested hundreds of millions in a sapphire manufacturing plant in Mesa, Arizona in conjunction with GT Advanced Technologies (GTAT). However, last year that company file for bankruptcy after and said it was unable to deliver on its promises due to “onerous” conditions placed upon it by Apple.
Since the GTAT debacle, there’s been a lot of interest in sapphire smartphone screens, as it’s currently the hardest material known to man. Corning has since secretly been working on a new type of screen which is both damage-resistant and scratch-resistant, combining the strengths of its existing Gorilla Glass and sapphire. This will no doubt help Corning keep its lead in smartphone display covers.
Project Phire should also help Corning to make inroads into the smart watch market, Gorilla Glass is already being used in products such as the Motorola 360 and Samsung Gear devices. Sapphire has also been used for years in high-end watches, due to its scratch resistance and high quality, and will be used to cover some versions of the Apple Watch, expected in April.
There are also a small number of phones which use sapphire, such as the Vertu Signature Touch, costing more than $10,000. But even though GTAT has gone bust, many people see sapphire as a superior product than Gorilla Glass, and expect more smartphone makers to eventually use sapphire as manufacturing techniques improve (it’s synthetic sapphire) and prices fall.
As far as Corning is concerned, its latest product is Gorilla Glass 4, which is twice as strong as Gorilla Glass 3. At the investor presentation on Friday, Corning also discussed the company’s Iris Glass, which it claims will help manufacturers build TVs as thin as smartphones with minimal edges around the sides.