New scratch test shows that iPhone 6 panel may not be pure sapphire after all

iPhone6sapphiredisplay

Could it be that the much-anticipated sapphire displays for the upcoming iPhone 6 isn’t actually sapphire at all? Sort of, according to a new video posted by YouTuber Marques Brownlee.

Brownlee made waves a few weeks back when he apparently managed to get hold of one of the super-tough 4.7-inch displays reported to feature in Apple’s next generation handset, and ran it through the most brutal assault course this side of Full Metal Jacket. The display was subjected to a scratch and shatter test involving keys, a knife, and even Brownlee himself trying to bend it with his foot.

Provided the display (supplied by renowned Apple leaker Sonny Dickson) is genuine, this test suggests that the iPhone 6 screen will be considerably stronger than the displays used in its predecessors.

But it may still not be pure sapphire. Here’s why.

New scratch test shows that iPhone 6 panel may not be pure sapphire after all

In a new video shown above, Brownlee tests the panel once again, this time using the Mohs scale of mineral hardness. The Mohs scale, for those who don’t know, runs from 1 to 10 — with 10 being hardest. A mineral can scratch anything below it on the list, but nothing above it. Since Brownlee’s steel knife rated a 5.5, he explains that it would have been unable to scratch either Gorilla Glass 3 (6.8 on the scale) or sapphire crystal (a 9).

To put the display through a more accurate set of tests, Brownlee tests it again using both garnet sandpaper (a 7 on the Mohs scale) and emery sandpaper (an 8), with both successfully scratching the panel, but not scratching the pure sapphire used for Apple’s Touch ID on the iPhone 5s.

This suggests that the iPhone 6 does not feature pure sapphire: something which may be for the best, since a pure sapphire display could prove prohibitively costly and without the necessary flexibility for a smartphone screen.

In fact, Apple has previously filed a patent application for a hybrid sapphire laminate, which could well turn out to be the material being used for the iPhone 6 screens.

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Apple’s March 2013 patent application shows how glass and sapphire could be bonded together to form a sapphire laminate.

Earlier this year, Apple opened its own sapphire manufacturing plant in Arizona, to manufacture what was described in paperwork as  “a critical new sub-component” for a future Apple product.

More recently it has been suggested that sapphire displays may feature only in the more expensive 64GB iPhone 6 — a rumor I personally hope is untrue, since it could needlessly complicate and fragment the iPhone 6 product line, particularly when considered alongside a previous rumor that Apple’s reported image stabilization feature will be available only on the 5.5-inch “phablet” iPhone.

Sapphire or sapphire laminate, the new iPhone 6 is expected to launch this September, featuring a new rounded design, improved processor and camera, and a host of other features.

  • Francisco Garcia Parga

    Sapphire Crystal being scratched with sandpaper is logical and does not have to disprove that it is this type of glass.
    The sandpapers are made with materials like corundum (Sapphire is a type of corundum) or harder than Sapphire, like Silicon Carbide. According to Mohs hardness scale, the sapphire could be scratched with the same corundum (depends on the type of corundum) or silicon carbide and therefore it is very likely that sandpaper scratching a Sapphire Crystal screen. The question is who carries in the Pocket sandpaper together with a mobile phone? Some of these tests border are ridiculous and put us in theoretical situations difficult to see in reality, the test should be with keys, coins, pens, etc.

    • OdasbestfriendMingo

      he explains the type of sand papers used in the video along with their respective place on the Mohs Hardness scale. The first one was garnet (7) and the last sandpaper was made from emery, which to your point, largely consists of the mineral corundum (aluminium oxide . . . Sapphire). And, i thought only PURE sapphire can scratch pure sapphire. But the screen was also scratched by garnet sandpaper ( which to my knowledge contains no abrasives that are harder than a 7 on the scale.

  • Josh Sanfilippo

    “…as long as you’re not carrying some high quality sandpaper in your pocket, you should be good…”Having dirty or sandy pockets (Common in FL or other Beachy areas) or accidentally sliding it over a dirty surface can mimic the effects of sandpaper. I’ve seen it happen to the back of an iPhone 5. But like Francisco Garcia Parga said about the sandpaper, it depends on the what minerals are in the dirt or sand as to whether it can scratch the screen.

  • ericbrady

    The problem with Apple’s current Gorilla glass isn’t scratches, it’s cracked broken screens. Something new will be used to solve this problem. Apple wants to make the best product possible, sapphire will be the solution.

    • http://www.feastofbeast.com DJBabyBuster

      I disagree. I’m way more concerned about scratches than broken screens. The latter is easy to avoid, just don’t drop your $500 phone :)

  • OdasbestfriendMingo

    This isn’t sapphire glass!!!! The iPhone 6 (4.7) glass displayed here, will be provided by corning. This is a corning iterative improvement on its prior product “GGIII” (hence the iterative improvement on the hardness scale), and apple is the beneficiary. There is an agreement barring corning from announcing the product until a certain time after apple reveals the new device, as has been the case often times in the past. The 5.5″ along with the iWatch will have the sapphire sandwiched glass, making it virtually scratch-proof, aside from diamond encounters. The 5.5″ and iWatch would be a better testbed because it would elicit a smaller demand, smaller production, ergo smaller risk if the display doesn’t hold up to typical usage within that smaller sample and demographic. If the apple-made “sapphire lamina” or “sapphire-glass sandwiched display” (gulp) holds up in the 5.5″ and iWatch, they will roll it out across their iPhone 7 line (a much larger product demand) in two years where the economies of scale would be better, following a market more amenable to general sapphire production,utilization, and refined product and production process. Corning is still very much in the game with this new product that is more scratch-resistant and flexible, but once Apple rolls out their own glass across all of its portable devices, save for iPads and Macs, corning’s clientele will no longer include apple. However, it will force Corning into the sapphire business and allow a client base that is less resource hungry and margin depleting.

  • Don’t fear the future

    A prior video shows this guy bending the glass while standing on one edge of the glass with his toes and bending up the other edge with his hand.

    Fact: sapphire glass cannot be bent, not even slightly.

    rayotek.com/techincal_info_glass_sapphire.htm

    I quote for the above site: Sapphire: “Cannot be bent, molded, drawn or melt-fused like glasses and metals. Sapphire can only be ground and mechanically polished.”

    The harder the substance, the more organized the crystalline structure of the material. Crystalline structures do not bend when stressed, they shatter.

  • Johnno

    “This suggests that the iPhone 6 does not feature pure sapphire:”

    Not entirely. It could also suggest that the sample that was given to Marques Brownlee is a fake and not a real sample of iPhone 6 screen at all.

About the author

Luke DormehlLuke Dormehl is a UK-based journalist and author, with a background working in documentary film for Channel 4 and the BBC. He is the author of The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems, And Create More and The Apple Revolution, both published by Penguin/Random House. His tech writing has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, Techmeme, and other publications. He'd like you a lot if you followed him on Twitter.

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