I have another theory: Apple wants to eliminate both the need and the desire for an iPhone case, cover or sleeve. There’s a lot more to this idea than simple scratch resistance.
Here’s my case for Apple’s case against cases.
The Need for Cases Is the iPhone’s Biggest Flaw
Apple is obsessed, obviously. The company is obsessed with elegant design. They’re obsessed with thinness and lightness. They’re obsessed with their own logo and visual, organic, word-of-mouth branding.
And that’s why it must give Jony Ive nightmares that millions of users cover his elegant, thin and light object of perfect with this kind of crap.
The truth is that Apple essentially forces people to use cases. If you don’t put a case on your iPhone, it will end up looking like a different kind of crap.
The iPhone 5 and 5s scratch easily, and simply look worse over time.
And that’s the harsh reality of iPhones: You can keep them looking awesome by never seeing them (hiding the awesomeness inside a case), or you can see them as they turn to trash over time with scratches, chipping, dents and other problems.
Another problem with not using a case is that the glass shatters when you drop the phone.
What’s the point, Ive must wonder, of pouring so much effort into an iPhone that will either be hidden or damaged?
How to Kill the Case
Apple is going big with sapphire. Estimates (based on documents acquired by analyst Matt Margolis) say the company’s Arizona factory will be able to crank out between 100 million and 200 million sapphire iPhone displays a year. That’s in the ball-park of how many iPhones Apple will probably build this year — somewhere between 150 and 200 million.
But it’s unlikely they’ll be making full displays out of sapphire.
Saphire is a crystalline form of aluminum oxide (so we’ll get to hear Jony Ive say “aluminium” again in the iPhone 6 promo video). Sapphire is “grown” by crystallizing it in furnaces, resulting in a giant cylinder that’s sliced and polished to make displays.
Using sapphire for the full display is way too expensive and costs several times more than Gorilla Glass displays do.
And, in fact, Apple has a patent for a range of technologies called “Sapphire Laminates” — in one of them, a very thin layer — less than 1 millimeter thick — of sapphire is bonded to Glass, which gives them the scratch-resistance of sapphire with the cost-effectiveness of glass.
Also: Apple’s partner for sapphire is GT Advanced Technologies, which recently acquired a company called Twin Creeks. That company developed something called ion cannon technology that GT expects will be able to make sheets of sapphire thinner than a human hair.
Another embodiment of Apple’s patent is a method for bonding sapphire to steel. And that’s technology Apple may use to eliminate the need for an iPhone case: I think Apple may be planning to put sapphire on both the front and the back of the iPhone 6.
If Apple can make 200 million sapphire displays, they can probably make at least twice that many sapphire laminates.
The iPhone 4 and 4s handsets had aluminosilicate glass (not Gorilla Glass) on both the front and the back. That’s why if you still own one of these devices, it’s either shattered or in great shape, except for micro scratches all over it. Even with scratches on the glass, a 3-year-old iPhone 4s probably looks better than a 3-month-old iPhone 5s not carried in a case.
Further, the back of the iPhone 6 could and should be one un-broken piece of laminate that covers both the camera lens and the flash LED. (The iPhone 4 and 4s glass covered the front-facing camera and back-facing flash seamlessly, but a hole was drilled for the camera on back. In the iPhone 5s, another hole was drilled for the LED.)
With its sapphire laminate technology, Apple could bond sapphire to glass on the front and metal on the back, creating an elegant, scratch-proof, thin, light and reasonably-priced iPhone 6.
This arrangement would enable you to carry your iphone in the same pocket as your keys and coins for a year, and it wouldn’t get a scratch.
It’s also likely that the sapphire or glass on such a phone wouldn’t shatter even if you dropped it on pavement. First, sapphire is three times stronger than Gorilla Glass. But more importantly, glass shatters when you drop it because it has scratches. Sapphire doesn’t scratch, so it’s also unlikely to shatter on impact.
An iPhone 6 that didn’t get scratched on the front or the back and that didn’t break when you dropped it on the street wouldn’t need a case.
I believe this is the main reason Apple is pushing for sapphire: to kill the case.