Sapphire crystal growth solutions provider GT Advanced Technologies announced earlier this week that it inked a big deal with Apple. The company said that Apple will prepay for about $578 million worth of sapphire growth equipment that will be used in the company’s facilities in Arizona. But what is Apple going to do with all that crystal? There has been some speculation that future iPhone handsets will feature sapphire display covers in place of what some presume to be Corning Gorilla Glass Apple currently uses, and Digitimes’ research arm apparently subscribes to that theory. Unfortunately, the group’s own math likely disproves the notion fairly conclusively.
Digitimes on Friday suggested that Apple’s big sapphire investment could be aimed at manufacturing 5-inch sapphire front panels for Apple’s iPhone 6 and other upcoming handsets. But the report notes that the equipment covered by Apple’s investment would only produce enough sapphire to make between 34 million and 51 million 5-inch iPhone screen covers each year. At that volume, Apple would only accommodate a fraction of the iPhones it builds annually.
The much more likely explanation, of course, is that Apple’s deal with GT Advanced Technologies will bring in equipment that will produce sapphire for home button covers and camera lenses.
Apple already uses sapphire crystal camera lenses on all iPhone models and the new Touch ID fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5s is covered by a sapphire crystal panel. With Apple’s next-generation full-size iPad and third-generation iPad mini both expected to be updated with Touch ID scanners in 2014, and with an “iWatch” reportedly on the way, Apple’s current iPhone glass supplier probably has nothing to worry about.