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New mystery and controversy surround the iPhone 6

iPhone 6 Rumors

Evidence continues to mount that Apple’s next-generation iPhone 6 will include at least a few big “firsts.” It will supposedly be the first new iPhone to include a larger display that actually benefits users (as we noted when reviewing the iPhone 5, the handset’s taller 4-inch screen didn’t really offer much of an advantage to users over the iPhone 4’s 3.5-inch panel). It will also likely be the first device to feature Apple’s new A8 processor as well as several other new key components. Beyond that, it seems more and more likely that the iPhone 6 will be the first mass-market cell phone to feature a sapphire crystal display cover — but where is all that sapphire going to come from?

Apple’s move to a sapphire front panel isn’t confirmed by any means, but it certainly looks like that will be the case. Beyond Apple’s investment in sapphire maker GT Advanced, an executive from Gorilla Glass maker Corning basically had a fit trying to convince the world that sapphire is a horrible material to cover a smartphone screen. He definitely sounded like an exec who just lost a good amount of business.

We also recently saw a report suggesting that Apple has everything it needs to make more than 100 million sapphire iPhone screen covers. That seems like more than enough to take care of the iPhone 6 during its launch quarter — the company’s current quarterly iPhone sales record sits at 51 million — but a new report suggests Apple’s big GT Advanced bet doesn’t quite have the legs some industry watchers thought it would.

“US-based GT Advanced Technologies (GTAT) is setting up a factory in Arizona for exclusive supply of sapphire to Apple, with the factory to be able to meet only 9.0-16.6% of demand for sapphire used in screen covers of a new-generation iPhone in 2014,” Digitimes Research analyst Jessie Lin wrote in a report on Friday. “The estimation is based on GTAT’s forecast sales of US$188-348 million from sapphire material (not including sapphire crystal growing equipment and technology).”

The research notes that average production cost of a 4-inch sapphire wafer is $30, and the group used a 5-inch wafer size when calculating its estimates. The iPhone 6 is rumored to have a 4.7-inch display and will therefore need a sapphire panel larger than 4.7 inches to cover its face.

The group estimates that Apple will ship 70 million next-generation iPhone 6 handsets this year, so it says GT Advanced’s sapphire yield will cover 16.6% of them at most.

Of note, 9to5Mac thinks that Digitimes Research’s estimates are way off, and the cost of producing each sapphire wafer for the iPhone 6 actually sits at about $6.40.

Zach Epstein

Zach Epstein has worked in and around ICT for more than 15 years, first in marketing and business development with two private telcos, then as a writer and editor covering business news, consumer electronics and telecommunications. Zach’s work has been quoted by countless top news publications in the US and around the world. He was also recently named one of the world's top-10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes, as well as one of Inc. Magazine's top-30 Internet of Things experts.

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