Supply Of The iPhone’s Touch Sensitive Coating Is Running Out

Avocado for iPhone

When the iPhone was unveiled back in 2007, its touch screen was a revelation to the industry. You don’t need a stylus; you just touch it with your finger and it responds almost instantaneously.

While the iPhone’s touch display may feel a bit magical, the glass is coated in a thin, transparent material called indium tin oxide (ITO) that can sense when you touch the display. It’s one of those little tiny feats of engineering that you never really notice, except according to a new report from the U.S. government, supplies of ITO are dwindling and researchers are hustling to find a replacement.

As reported by GigaOM, the U.S. government estimates that from 2010 to 2011, the cost for indium has risen 25 percent. Even more worrisome, they’re projecting that indium mines might run dry around 2020, which is leading manufacturers to look for an alternative material that can provide a new touch screen coating.

At this year’s Semicon West conference in San Francisco, industry experts from across the globe reported their findings on alternative solutions. So far the most promising alternatives promoted at the conference have been graphene — a material made out of  a one-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms — and Silver Nano wires that are 10,000 times skinnier than a human hair, but can be cut to any length and are extremely flexible.

Nanotech Biomachines CEO Will Martinez says manufacturers are hard at work to free themselves from using ITO on their touch displays:

Some manufacturers are already planning on incorporating ITO alternatives into their devices. Foxconn might begin using carbon nanotubes in the non-Apple devices it makes by the end of 2013, and Samsung is working on prototypes that use graphene.

Recent estimates claim there are 531.9 million smartphones with touchscreens in the world today, but that will increase to 1.4 billion within the next few years, leaving manufacturers with a lot of R&D work to do before a solid replacement can be found, according to Martinez.

  • darylayala

    Majority of people use a screen protector anyways….

  • Steffen Jobbs

    The headline makes it seem like only Apple depends upon this substance when in fact all smartphone manufacturers would be affected by a lack of supply. I would consider it a misleading headline. The year 2020 is a long way off and smartphone tech could certainly evolve a lot by that time. A relatively useless article by any standard.

  • Adrayven

    Majority of people use a screen protector anyways….

    Eh? … I’ll say it again… EH?

  • macstuffdaily

    Isn’t anyone in the business of reclaiming ITO from old touch screen phones that use it? or do we just send all our crap to china.

  • SonsofAres

    “The year 2020 is a long way off.” – Seven years is hardly way off. One can have all the amazing tech one wants, but is there’s no physical materials to make it happen, it aint gonna happen.

  • CarlScott20

    my co-worker’s ex-wife makes $64 an hour on the laptop. She has been out of a job for 9 months but last month her payment was $21168 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this site….. http://tiny.cc/ww15zw

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Buster HeinBuster Hein is Cult of Mac's Senior News Editor and lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Twitter: @bst3r.

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