The iPhone 6 may have a sapphire glass screen. It also may not. We've been through the will-they-won't-they, but MIT Technology Review recently went straight to the source: a company that's designed a better, cheaper way to manufacture the stuff. If Apple is planning a sapphire screen device, this could be the machine that makes it.
We've been through this dilemma before: sapphire glass is super strong, but it's expensive and impractical to manufacture on the scale Apple would need. That's because to make a screen from the stuff, each layer has to be sliced from a big chunk of synthetic sapphire using a saw, then whittled and ground down to the correct thickness. It's slow, pricey, and wasteful.
But as MIT's Kevin Bullis found out in a visit to GT Advanced Technologies, there's now an easier way. GT has created a machine that produces sapphire-strength screens faster and cheaper, by making what amounts to a "veneer" of sapphire that can be added to nearly any screen. Here's how Bullis describes the new machine:
GT uses a different approach in its new machine, which is the size of a concrete-mixing truck and operates in its labs in Danvers, Massachusetts. The machine shoots hydrogen ions at a wafer of sapphire, implanting the ions to a depth of 26 micrometers. The wafer can then be removed and heated up so that the hydrogen ions form hydrogen gas, which expands and causes a 26-micrometer-thick layer of sapphire to tear off.
There's no way to know for sure if GT will be making the screens for the iPhone 6, or if they'll use this new machine at all. But keep in mind that just last year, Apple entered into a project with GT to open a huge sapphire manufacturing plant in Arizona. Huge enough, in fact, to make as many at 200 million sapphire glass displays. So we know that this stuff is in Apple's future – even if it's not as near-term as the rumour mill might suggest. [MIT Technology Review]