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Smartphone screens could someday incorporate the same material used in military armor

News by Andrew Kameka on Thursday March 21, 2013.

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Corning Gorilla Glass is strong, but how would you like to have a phone that could be three times stronger and has the potential to increase the chance of survival when dropped on concrete? According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Review, such a phone could be created in a few years.

Citing notes from Yole Developpement analysts Eric Virey, MIT Review proposes that sapphire could one day be used to provide more rigid protection for phone displays. Sapphire is a crystalline form of aluminum, meaning it's transparent but still very strong. Sapphire is stronger than Gorilla Glass and three times more scratch-resistant, which would give any device using it a better chance of surviving a drop test.

Sapphire is used for transparent armor for the military, and companies have begun developing new techniques that would utilize the material in ways that are not as expensive to produce. The reduction in production costs is critical because a pure sapphire display would cost $30 to produce under current conditions; by comparison, Gorilla Glass costs less than $3. Costs are expected to fall significantly as companies explore ways to laminate sapphire with other materials that would provide more strength at a more reasonable price.

Unfortunately, costs will be higher no matter how much companies are able to save money to incorporate sapphire in the near future. GT Advanced Technologies, one of the companies developing new sapphire uses, estimates that costs will be three to four times as much as Gorilla Glass. That might still be too high for manufacturers to consider, especially if Corning continues to improve on its established products and provides strength that is good enough to exceed reasonable expectations. Corning will not sit still and watch other companies encroach on its territory, so its own products may advance significantly in the time it takes others to harness sapphire in a way to truly be competitive. Virey is convinced that "some will start testing the water" and use sapphire in 2013, but we're far from seeing it be widely deployed in major smartphones.

source: MIT Technology Review

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Andrew Kameka
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.

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