October 8, 2014: Apple says it is “surprised” after GT Advanced Technologies, the supplier rumored to be manufacturing ultra-strong sapphire glass displays for the new iPhone 6, says it will file for bankruptcy.
The announcement appears to mark the end of the road for sapphire glass iPhone screens, a highly anticipated upgrade that promised to make devices more durable.
Apple’s deal with GT Advanced Technologies
Up until the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus release, sapphire glass screens remained one of the biggest rumored upgrades. Ahead of the devices’ unveiling, the prospect excited many people. YouTube videos purporting to show iPhone 6 sapphire displays resisting knife scrapes got people amped. One survey showed that consumers’ most-anticipated iPhone 6 feature was a sapphire display.
To try and make this a reality, Apple signed a deal with GT Advanced Technologies in November 2013. The pact included a $578 million payment from Apple to speed up “the development of its next generation, large capacity ASF furnaces to deliver low cost, high volume manufacturing of sapphire material.”
This would take place at a plant in Mesa, Arizona. However, Apple never confirmed its interest in sapphire iPhone displays. Still, as the rumors grew stronger, GT’s stock price rose.
Unfortunately, things unravelled behind the scenes. Supposedly unhappy with GT’s progress, Apple withheld its final $139 million payment. Sapphire yield rates of 25% or less reportedly disappointed Cupertino.
The end of the road for sapphire iPhone screens
Seeing no way forward, Apple rolled out the iPhone 6 without the rumored sapphire display, causing GT Advanced Technologies’ stock to plummet. (GT’s CEO reportedly made $10 million offloading his shares ahead of the iPhone 6 event.)
In early October 2014, GT suddenly filed for bankruptcy. Court documents revealed that the company blamed Apple for its woes. The sapphire-maker said Apple “imposed oppressive and burdensome terms and obligations on GTAT.”
Ultimately, Cupertino’s demands made GT’s “continued performance” no longer “a viable business option,” the company said.
Apple, meanwhile, said it would focus on preserving jobs in Arizona, where GT’s factory went belly-up. The 1.3-million-square-foot facility wound up becoming a new Apple data center for 150 full-time employees.
Years later, we still don’t have our sapphire iPhone displays. However, the Ceramic Shield technology introduced in iPhone 12 makes current screens quite durable. The specially engineered glass is heat-treated to develop nanocrystals similar to those found in ceramics.
Apple showcased Ceramic Shield in the “Fumble” ad, which you can watch below.