Apple is investing $250 million in Corning, the company behind Gorilla Glass. Corning has worked with Apple on every iPhone since the original.
The money comes from a $5 billion fund that Apple set aside to advance U.S. manufacturing. Corning produces its screens at its plant in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.
Apple and Corning have not revealed the exact details of their deal. Previous long-term supplier agreements have typically involved Apple paying an upfront cash sum to secure future supplies at better prices. It’s the equivalent of placing an exceptionally large order and getting the requisite reduction. In return, suppliers use the money to carry out R&D or upgrade their facilities.
“This award underscores Apple and Corning’s shared belief in the vital role that ingenuity plays in creating industry-leading products,” said Apple COO Jeff Williams. “[It’s also about] the pride that both companies take in applying American innovation and advanced manufacturing to solve some of the world’s toughest technology challenges.”
In total, Corning has now received $450 million from Apple’s U.S. manufacturing fund. It previously received $200 million in 2017. The fund has also previously involved a payment of $390 million to chipmaker Finisar Corp, and $10 million to an aluminum venture to create a carbon-free aluminum smelting process.
The origins of Gorilla Glass
Corning developed Gorilla Glass for the first iPhone. When Steve Jobs began looking for a glass manufacturer for the iPhone in 2006, he spoke with a former Xerox PARC friend named John Seely Brown, who was on Corning’s board of directors. Brown advised Jobs to speak with Corning’s new CEO, Wendell Weeks.
This began the long relationship between the two companies. As Walter Isaacson revealed in his biography of Jobs, Weeks told the Apple CEO that Corning didn’t have the facilities to make the kind of type of material Jobs sought. “Don’t be afraid,” Jobs said. “Get your mind around it. You can do it.”
Since then, Gorilla Glass has been through multiple iterations to improve its formulation. It is an artificially strengthened type of glass, made by dipping glass into a molten salt bath of potassium nitrate. Potassium ions in the salt bath diffuse into the glass, creating a hardened compression layer on the surface.