Apple Invests in GT Advanced Technologies for Sapphire

iPhone 5s home button

Refining existing products and continually experimenting with new materials has been an integral part of Apple’s new product development strategy. Securing long term deals for components that are used in iOS devices has become fairly common. From touch screens, flash storage to even bulk booking of courier services, Apple’s strategy has been to invest in long term healthy supply of components.

Apple uses Sapphire to protect the iPhone camera lens and now the iPhone 5s also uses it as a protective cover for Touch ID sensor. According to a new report published by AllThingsD, Apple is building a factory in Arizona to boost the manufacturing of sapphire. GT Advanced Technologies earlier this week announced that they have secured a multi-year deal with Apple to manufacture sapphire in the Arizona facility.

As a part of the deal between the two companies GT will supply and manage sapphire production and in return Apple will prepay approximately $570 million. The new facility will result in more than 2000 jobs in engineering, manufacturing and construction according to Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet. It was also revealed that the facility will run on 100 percent renewable energy from day one.

GT is expected to research and develop larger capacity furnaces to increase the production of sapphire and as a result reduce cost of the component. Apple’s increased interest in sapphire is certainly an indication of it becoming an integral part of future devices from the company.

Many are speculating that sapphire could possibly replace Corning Gorilla Glass, which has been used in more than 1.5 billion devices worldwide. This is based on the fact that sapphire is used in the high end watches. However, corning has come forward and published articles on why they don’t view sapphire as a threat.

Although sapphire is a leading product for the cover of watches and camera lenses, many of its features are not well suited for use in the consumer electronics industry.

According to tests performed by Corning, sapphire fails to provide the same durability when used at the same thinness as Gorilla Glass. However, the company agrees with the fact that sapphire is is harder to scratch.

It’s possible that Apple may use sapphire in the rumoured iWatch. Since watches are more prone to scratches the use of sapphire could make the product more resistant to scratches.

Apple is expected to introduce the new smart watch dubbed as “iWatch” in 2014. The watch is rumoured to provide a ‘connected’ experience. It will also feature sensors to track health related data. Samsung has already launched its own smart watch called Samsung Gear but the reviews haven’t been favourable. It will be interesting to see if Apple’s idea of a smart watch excites customers and if it manages to become a ubiquitous part of our lives.

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