Corning Glass Slams Sapphire Applications in Future Apple Devices

Corning Glass Senior Vice President Tony Tripeny had some not so nice words to say about sapphire during a Q&A session at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference on March 4. The company blasted the material in defense of their Gorilla Glass. 

James Fawcett, senior analyst at Morgan Stanley, asked Tripeny several questions in regards to “a particular” handset and device maker’s move towards sapphire application in future devices, clearly hinting at Apple according to CNET

When asked about the pros and cons of sapphire versus glass, Tripeny responded: “When we look at it, we see a lot of disadvantages of Sapphire versus Gorilla Glass. It's about 10 times more expensive. It's about 1.6 times heavier. It's environmentally unfriendly. It takes about 100 times more energy to generate a Sapphire crystal than it does glass. It transmits less light which...means either dimmer devices or shorter battery life. It continues to break. I think while it's a scratch resistant product it still breaks and our testing says that Gorilla Glass [can take] about 2.5 times more pressure that it can take...Sapphire on. So when we look at it, we think from an overall industry and trend that is not attractive in consumer electronics.” (Seeking Alpha)

Fawcett then touched on the cost difference between sapphire and glass, asking about what makes sapphire more costly and whether production costs could be lowered to make it competitive with Gorilla Glass. Tripeny responded: “So from the last question, I will probably answer that first. Clearly, Corning has been in the crystal manufacturing business for a very long time, both directly and also through our joint venture, Dow Corning. So our knowledge of this has a lot to do with our knowledge about round crystal manufacturing. If it was a business that was attractive to enter into, we certainly would be able to do that.

On the first question, I think it's really a combination of three things. The formation takes about 4,000 times longer than Gorilla Glass at a significantly higher melting temperature. Its hardness makes machining more difficult and costly. Then the cost per unit increases exponentially because when you have defects in boundaries in the crystal growth process, you essentially cut them out. And so unlike glass, where we have developed technologies so that we can have [a] very large pristine pieces of glass, when you have that on crystals, what you end up doing is always having a yield issue. So it is really those items that make things more expensive.” (Seeking Alpha)

Industry Insiders however anticipate sapphire production costs to drop sooner than expected. The recent cooperation between Apple and Samsung will drive down sapphire material costs to US $20 (NT $605) within two years. In addition, GT Advanced Technologies will continue to use their experience from si-wafer costdown to reduce the cost of sapphire epiwafers. 

Despite large OEMs such as Apple and Samsung turning their attentions to sapphire materials, Corning stated that the company has no interest in entering the sapphire industry. 

The Q&A session regarding sapphire versus Gorilla Glass ended with Tripeny admitting the only advantage of sapphire, aside from scratch resistance, is that “it has got a very sexy name. Sapphire.”

To read the entire transcript of the Q&A session, please visit Seeking Alpha
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