Scratch test suggests iPhone 7 camera lens may not be pure sapphire

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iphone 7 plus camera
Apple's new camera lens is cool, but it may not be pure sapphire.
Photo: Apple

We may not yet have sapphire glass on our iPhone screens, but Apple has been claiming to use the ultra-hard material for its iPhone camera lens since 2013’s iPhone 5s.

However, those claims are being called into question by a new durability test carried out by YouTuber JerryRigEverything, who compares the hardness of the iPhone 7 camera lens with the sapphire display of a Tissot sapphire watch — and finds that the iPhone camera lens scratches far more easily.

Check the video out below.

Apple’s ex-sapphire supplier is out of bankruptcy and looking for work

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Apple is gobbling up sapphire supplies at an alarming rate of knots. Photo:
Guess who's back?
Photo: GT Advanced Technologies

GT Advanced Technologies — a.k.a. the disastrous sapphire supplier which was hired by Apple to build iPhone displays, before collapsing into bankruptcy — has announced that it has reemerged from Chapter 11 as a newly-reorganized company with a “solid balance sheet,” and “renewed strategy focused on growth in the solar and sapphire industries.”

Fancy being its first new client?

New sapphire glass screens could be coming to the iPhone 6s

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Apple is gobbling up sapphire supplies at an alarming rate of knots. Photo:
New sapphire glass technology could make it as good as Gorilla Glass. Photo: GT Advanced Technologies
Photo: GT Advanced Technologies

In the lead-up to the iPhone 6, everyone expected Apple to give it a sapphire glass display. Sapphire glass, it was said, would lead to nigh-indestructible screens: Scratched and shattered iPhone displays would become a thing of the past.

Of course, we all know what happened from there. Apple’s sapphire partner, GT Advanced Technologies, completely collapsed, and the iPhone 6 shipped with plain old Gorilla Glass. Yet even if it hadn’t, Apple might not have used sapphire glass, which was much more reflective and harder to read in ambient light than Gorilla Glass.

But here’s the key word: was. A new technology has emerged that might make sapphire glass every bit as good when it comes to viewability as Gorilla Glass.

Apple’s failed Arizona sapphire plant will be $2 billion data ‘command center’

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Back entrance to GTAT's sapphire plant in Mesa, AZ. Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac
From sapphire to data. Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac

The fate of GT Advanced Technologies’ failed sapphire plant in Mesa, Arizona, has been decided. After committing to repurposing the 1.3-million-square-foot facility, Apple revealed today that it will invest $2 billion in making it a global command center for all of its cloud networks.

The company plans to have 150 full-time employees based in Mesa to operate the center once it’s built, and there will be an accompanying solar farm to power the facility with 100% renewable energy.

Apple’s failed sapphire makers want to pay out millions in bonuses to senior execs

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Could Gorilla Glass soon be even better than sapphire? Photo: Corning Glass
Failed sapphire maker GT Advanced Technologies wants to pay out performance-based bonuses to its senior execs.

GT Advanced Technologies’ attempts to make sapphire iPhone screens for Apple may have ended in disaster, but that’s not stopping GT senior execs from asking for millions to be paid out in bonuses.

Because the company filed for bankruptcy protection back in October, any bonus program needs to have the signature of a judge in order to be legally binding. GT is requesting a hearing in January, although it admits there is likely to be opposition.

The bonus program would cover 9 unidentified senior executives, and could add up to $2.275 million if all the necessary targets are hit. A second bonus proposal would pay a total of $1.4 million to an additional 28 people.

How Corning won Apple back and built the strongest Gorilla Glass yet

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Corning's Gorilla Glass. Photo: Corning
Gorilla Glass is the go-to material for today's touchscreens. Photo: Corning

Corning’s relationship with Apple looked doomed earlier this year. Having manufactured the touchscreens for every iPhone since 2007, the Gorilla Glass bosses were all but sure they were being ditched in favor of synthetic sapphire crystal, set to be supplied by Apple’s hot new partner, GT Advanced Technologies.

But while Apple’s affair with GT has imploded spectacularly, Corning is back on Cupertino’s crush list after stepping in at the eleventh hour to create super-sized displays for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Now Corning is convinced its latest technological advance — Gorilla Glass 4, its toughest version yet — will banish sapphire suitors for the immediate future.

“Sapphire is a really, really nice material that’s very good for reducing scratches,” Dave Velasquez, Corning’s director of marketing and commercial ops, told Cult of Mac. “However, we feel very strongly that glass is the best material for touch panel cover glass. When you weigh up everything from cost to drop-testing, to the amount of energy that’s needed to make it, in our opinion Gorilla Glass is clearly the best material to use.”

Rules to live by if you want to be an Apple supplier

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Some of GT Advanced Technology's failed attempts to create sapphire for future iPhones. Photo: WSJ
Some of GT Advanced Technology's failed attempts to create sapphire for future iPhones. Photo: WSJ

Depending on whether or not you can fulfil what is asked of you, being an Apple supplier sounds like it’s either the best or worst experience imaginable.

In the wake of the crashing and burning of Apple’s former sapphire supplier GT Advanced Technologies, some of Cupertino’s other contractors have pitched in with their take; filling the Wall Street Journal in on a few of the lessons they’ve learned along their roller coaster rides with Apple.

The two biggest take-homes? Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and don’t rely too much on Cupertino.

This is why the iPhone 6 didn’t get a sapphire screen

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Some of GT Advanced Technology's failed attempts to create sapphire for future iPhones. Photo: WSJ
Photo: WSJ

No matter what the reason, or who was at fault, the collapse in Apple’s relationship with former sapphire supplier GT Advanced Technologies came down to one thing: the latter company wasn’t able to meet Apple’s terms.

Now photos published by the Wall Street Journal show some of GTAT’s sapphire errors, made just days before Apple signed a deal for the company to produce sapphire displays to be used in next generation iPhones. The 578 pound sapphire cylinders — known as boules — featured multiple flaws, which rendered the majority unusable.

While Apple certainly pushes its manufacturers hard to seemingly achieve the impossible on tighter and tighter profit margins, the picture that emerges from the WSJ article is of GT as a chaotic company, struggling from the very start to fulfil Apple’s expectations.

Apple looks to repurpose Arizona factory after GTAT bankruptcy

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Back entrance to GTAT's sapphire plant in Mesa, AZ. Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac
Back entrance to GTAT's sapphire plant in Mesa, AZ. Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac

Apple’s sapphire ambitions with GT Advanced Technology have been a complete disaster. But even though the plan to turn Mesa, Arizona, into the Sapphire Capital of the West failed, Apple executives are still looking for a way to repurpose GT’s new factory.

The city of Mesa and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer bent over backward to bring Apple to the Grand Canyon State, but now that GTAT plans to shut down operations, Apple says it’s still committed to helping the area.

Apple copycats put off by its sapphire woes

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Indestructible iPhone screens are still in the works. Photo: Marques Brownlee
From beloved material to pariah, no-one wants to touch sapphire now Apple's ditched its plans.

The start of any innovative business should be identifying a service that the current market leader in the sector is not supplying.

With Apple’s failure to provide sapphire displays for its latest iPhones — thanks to the spectacular collapse of now-bankrupt supplier GT Advanced Technologies — you’d think that other smartphone makers would be climbing over one another to bring sapphire-enhanced smartphones to market; demonstrating that they can do what Tim Cook and his billions of dollars weren’t able to.

Which is why it’s something of a surprise (or perhaps not!) to hear that Apple’s troubles with sapphire displays has pretty much discouraged other companies from trying the same thing.