Apple supplier could manufacture 45 million sapphire panels for 5.5-inch iPhone 6

This is the new sapphire glass that will front the iPhone 6. This picture was sent to the repair shop owner from his suppliers in China. He hasn't tested the screen for strength but sincerely hopes it can be broken. "More business for me," he said.

According to a new report from Digitimes, U.S.-based GT Advanced Technologies will be supplying sapphire screens for the eagerly anticipated 5.5-inch iPhone 6.

Based on Digitimes’ research, GTAT has 2,500 crystal-growing furnaces and mature crystal-growing processes that would allow them to produce enough sapphire to produce 45 million 5.5-inch covers in 2015. Cost-wise these are likely to come in at around $30, which Digitimes suggests will be a competitive price for a 5.5-inch sapphire cover in 2015.

Late last year it was reported that Apple had paid GTAT a total of $578 million to speed up “the development of its next generation, large capacity ASF furnaces to deliver low cost, high volume manufacturing of sapphire material.”

Although we don’t know for sure yet, some rumors have speculated that the extra-strong sapphire screens will be an exclusive available only for Apple’s larger “phablet” iPhone, which could make sense given the increased chance of dropping and thereby cracking a larger-screen device.

Yesterday the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office published a new patent application from Apple describing a way to further strengthen it sapphire screens by using a method of ion implantation. This could, in turn, relate to the recent news that GTAT may be using a Hyperion 4 Ion Implanter technology to make paper thin sheets of pure crystal sapphire glass for the iPhone by bombarding the material with hydrogen ions.

Several smartphone vendors are already testing sapphire screen covers of their own to try and keep up with Apple.

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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