Sapphire production for iPhone 6 won’t hit full speed until 2015

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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.

  • ericbrady

    May I suggest checking your sources better rather than spreading an obviously errant story. Digitimes is very wrong on this. Come on, do you think a screen will actually cost $100? Apple and GTAT have it figured out. Oh, guess I missed Apple”s press release on this one, 1.35 to 2.25 million screens… Get real!

    • Adrayven

      Totally agree.. We all know GT has developed a process that greatly lowers it’s cost of production many times over.. and Gorilla Glass is around $3 per screen, and a current sapphire glass screen, prior to GT’s new process was down to around $10-$15 per screen to make.

      That cost is only going to go down to GT’s new processes… I wouldn’t be surprised to see it come down to around $3-$5 per screen this time next year because of GT’s research..

      a far cry from $100 … Digitimes is just plain, flat wrong..

      • ericbrady

        Where does Alex even get his facts? Quoting the above story, “Apple’s only sapphire partner is GT Advanced Technologies with a relatively small operation in Arizona.” – The plant is actually 1.3 million square feet and has a reported 1,700 furnaces making sapphire crystal boules 24/7.

      • http://www.alexheath.me Alex Heath

        Compared to Apple’s vast, multi-factory supply chain in Asia where multiple factories work on a same component, GTAT is a “relatively small operation.”

      • ericbrady

        Thanks for replying Alex. I’ve done my homework on Apple and GTAT (Long GTAT & AAPL). By your own definition “Apple’s only sapphire partner” is a unique position. Of course we wouldn’t know till Apple announces the next iPhone but it wouldn’t be hard for GTAT to make this many sapphire screens. Production of the sapphire crystal boules started long ago while other parts of the plant were still under construction in Mesa, but yes “full production” has not started yet. Apple sources most parts from “multiple factories” your words again. There are over 600 in Asia alone. Certainly the assembly factories such as Hon Hai Precision and Pegatron may be bigger than 1.3 million square feet, most others are not. Sorry to disagree a sole supplier with such a monopolistic position is not a “relatively small operation” nor is a 1.3 million square feet building. This whole story has less facts than a story on the Onion. I worked as a journalist for thirty years, it’s sad to see the bar set so low.

  • AAPL_@_$101_Is_A_Done_Deal_:)

    These people are out and out click-whores. I have never heard one announcement by Apple saying they were going to use sapphire screens on any of their iPhone models and I’ve certainly never heard Apple announce a coming iWatch or any specific wearable device. Back in 2013 there was a patent by Apple telling how Apple can add a layer of sapphire laminate to glass to make it more resistant to scratches or wear. Supposedly the thickness of the sapphire laminate was about that of a human hair, so Apple could make a little bit of sapphire go a long way for much lower costs than some people estimate. I don’t there there has ever been a mass production of sapphire to this day until Apple got totally into it. I don’t know how useful it will really be for iPhone users if Apple does decide to make sapphire screens but it should separate Apple from Android as Android smartphones as Apple continues its upward path to go upscale.

  • Nick

    You people are exposing your ignorance: each manufactured panel is
    5 feet square…producing
    many iPhones.

    • ericbrady

      The sapphire crystals are not glass sheets but a “man made rock” or crystal, they’re made in a special furnace, the products that comes out are called boules, they’re not 5 feet square but closer to the needed dimensions of a finished size screen. They are sliced off of a boule and shaped to the finished size, hundreds can be made per boule. The term sapphire glass thrown around is incorrect, the proper term is sapphire crystal or just sapphire.

      • Nick

        Gorilla glass is produced in 5 foot square panels.

      • ericbrady

        Had a feeling that was what you meant. Good day!

  • GTAT long

    I work at a steel rolling mill and have been producing molybdenum sheets and waterjet cutting circles out of those sheets for the cruibles for over a year now. We are not the only supplier either. Sapphire has been used in the iPhone 5 and 5s. There was already a stock pile of it sitting somewhere. GTAT Hyperion can slice sapphire down to 20-30micron thick. The boules are over 12 inches tall and over 12 in diameter. Several thousand screens can be made from a boule. No hype here all real speak. See you in a month with a full line of sapphire covered Apple products. Not just iPhones.

  • Xethoz

    Para 2. line 3 – “will he” should be “will be.”

About the author

Alex HeathAlex Heath is a senior writer at Cult of Mac and co-host of the CultCast. He has been quoted by the likes of the BBC, KRON 4 News, and books like "ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation." If you want to pitch a story, share a tip, or just get in touch, additional contact information is available on his personal site. Twitter always works too.

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