Why the iPhone 6 lacks a sapphire display

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Photo: Roberto Baldwin/The Next Web.
Photo: Roberto Baldwin/The Next Web.

One of the biggest disappointments from Apple’s announcements yesterday was the lack of a sapphire screen for the iPhone 6. A seemingly-neverending string of part leaks and rumors indicated that 2014 would be the year the iPhone got a nearly indestructible sapphire display cover.

And while sapphire is used for the Apple Watch’s display, Apple made no mention of sapphire for the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus.

What happened?

According to a knowledgable source, it all came down to a last-minute problem in the manufacturing process.

“The plan as of several weeks ago was to include a sapphire covered iPhone 6 in yesterday’s launch”

“The plan as of several weeks ago was to include a sapphire covered iPhone 6 in yesterday’s launch,” said Matt Margolis, a senior research analyst at PTT Research and sapphire specialist who has been following Apple’s production closely. “The issue that emerged is that the finishers were still having trouble creating the sapphire edges and yields were only at 25% or less.”

Last year, Apple opened a giant sapphire plant in Mesa, Arizona with GT Advanced Technologies. The writing on the wall was obvious: a lot of sapphire planned for new products. The iPhone only made sense.

YouTube videos showing iPhone 6 sapphire displays resisting knife scrapes got the world excited for more durable iPhones. A recent survey showed that that most-wanted feature from consumers in the iPhone 6 was a sapphire display.

Suppliers overseas were confident that the iPhone 6’s display would be made of sapphire leading right up to this week’s Apple event. Cult of Mac was sent parts and specs that confirmed a sapphire display, and plenty of mainstream publications piled on the sapphire-is-coming-train too.

Over the last month, GT shipped large quantities of sapphire to Biel and Lens, the two companies tapped to perform the iPhone’s sapphire screen finishing. Biel and Lens currently procure and finish sapphire for the iPhone’s camera lens and Touch ID sensor.

A delivery confirmation from September 7th provided to Cult of Mac shows a shipment of 80,000 deficient sapphire screens heading back to GT from Lens Tech in China.
A delivery confirmation from September 7th provided to Cult of Mac shows a shipment of 80,000 screens-worth of deficient sapphire heading back to GT from Lens Tech in China.

“I have been told the issue was not on GT’s side of the house but solely resides within the finishers involved in the process,” explained Margolis. “My source also indicated that the yield issues can be addressed and worked out but it remains to be seen when Apple will release a sapphire covered iPhone.”

Reports out of Asia said Apple was facing sapphire production problems leading up to Tuesday’s Apple event. To accommodate, some said Apple would limit sapphire displays to higher-end iPhone 6 models. Then it was reported that GT’s sapphire production wouldn’t be fully ramped up until 2015.

Regardless of sapphire not showing up in the iPhone 6’s display, GT “will continue to push out as much sapphire as humanly possible from Mesa,” said Margolis. It’s only a matter of when Apple will choose to give the iPhone a sapphire cover.

The Apple Watch is in good hands too. “The sapphire produced from the Arizona sapphire facility is sufficient enough to cover well north of 60 million Apple Watches annually once it is fully ramped up by early 2015,” he said.