The uncertainty about iPhone 6 availability this fall is largely centered around one component: sapphire. The ultra-durable material is rumored to be in not only two new iPhone models this fall, but the iWatch as well.
Apple’s only sapphire partner is GT Advanced Technologies with a relatively small operation in Arizona. According to another report, GTAT’s sapphire production, particularly for the 5.5-inch iPhone 6, will he heavily constrained until 2015.
Only 1.35-2.25 million sapphire covers for the larger 5.5-inch model will be made by the end of the year, according to Digitimes.
GTAT started sapphire production in August 2014 and expects revenue contributions from sapphire to begin in the fourth quarter, and Apple’s fourth down payment is due in October 2014, these conditions signal that GTAT’s sapphire production will not reach a large scale by the end of 2014, Digitimes Research indicated. However, GTAT is likely to ship sapphire at a large volume beginning the first quarter of 2015.
Not only are sapphire panels more difficult to make, but they are much more costly than the Gorilla glass Apple is currently using. Digitimes notes that one sapphire cover costs around $100 to manufacture, while reinforced glass only costs $5-$10 per panel. The increased cost certainly supports the theory that Apple will raise the price of the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 considerably to market it as a premium device.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Apple had ordered a record 70-80 million new iPhones in both the 4.7 and 5.5-inch sizes. It’s looking like the vast majority of those new iPhones will be the 4.7-inch size, as there have been numerous reports that the 5.5-inch model could not ship until early 2015.
How exactly Apple will implement sapphire in its new phones is unclear. Perhaps the company will offer sapphire as a special upgrade that costs more on top of the device’s retail value. That way, far fewer customers would opt for additional sapphire coating. Otherwise, there won’t be enough sapphire to go around for the holiday sales rush.
Apple has an iPhone event reportedly planned for September 9th.