Sapphire glass could be coming to a smartphone near youAnna Scantlin - Contributing Editor
One of the more vexing issues we have with our smartphones today relates to the durability of the screen; for the most part, they're just not that durable. Even when you protect your phone to the max you can find yourself in a precarious situation where your phone unfortunately drops on the sharp corner of an object only to have the screen completely shatter. While there's still no completely indestructible material that we can yet use on our smartphones to prevent such shattering, there is a new material in production for smartphones (but certainly not new to the world) that can seriously reduce the amount of scratches a phone can take, and that material is called sapphire.
Sapphire is the second strongest natural substance in the world, second only to diamond. By creating a thin layer of glass to fit over our smartphones, sapphire glass could be the very future of our screens. We already see the use of sapphire glass in objects we see today, like watches and even bullet-proof glass. Sapphire glass could be the competition against the other super material that's in the works for being used in our smartphones, graphene.
While I've already delved into the possibilities of how graphene could affect the future of smartphones, it really only addresses how flexible the material is and not necessarily how scratch resistant it is. However, if a device is using a flexible screen it can only be assumed that not only is it able to maneuver around any element in its way, but it is also very durable and won't crack or break easily. But for those who are more interested in keeping the smartphones in their current form without altering them too much - solid, sturdy, and easy to hold devices - then perhaps sapphire glass might be something to spark your interest.
The way the synthetic sapphire glass is being produced is rather simple. The company melts copious amounts of aluminum oxide together, and slowly lets it cool to create a single crystal of transparent sapphire. This isn't a stereotypical dazzling blue sapphire. In order to make a blue sapphire one would need to add titanium and iron (fun fact: if you wanted to make a ruby, you could add chromium instead). This material created out of melted and hardened aluminum oxide creates a clear sheet of glass that is three times stronger than Corning's Gorilla Glass.
At the moment, it also comes at a bit higher cost. While it only takes $3 to make a sheet of Gorilla Glass, it currently takes $30 to make a sheet of sapphire glass. While it sounds like a big jump, you also have to consider how this basically makes the point of screen protector's moot. Zagg shields cost $30, and although they do come with the added bonus of a lifetime warranty it's definitely not as hassle-free as basically having an integrated screen protector that does the same thing.
In this video from Mobile World Congress 2013, a demonstrator shows just how tough sapphire glass can be by using a prototype placed over the original screen of an iPhone 5. The test shows how well the glass works - at first glance it looks like the screen is taking damage and the concrete is leaving dents. In reality, the glass is the one doing the damage and breaking up the concrete hitting it. The residue is simply wiped away with a cleaning cloth - pretty amazing stuff!
The real downside to the sapphire glass is that it's extremely brittle, so although scratches aren't going to be an issue it won't stop your phone from completely shattering if the drop is harsh enough on the device. It's still tougher than Gorilla Glass though, so at least by creating this material you get to keep the traditional design of a smartphone with a screen that can take even more of a beating than what we're currently used to.
I can see sapphire glass being a plus for the people who aren't quite ready to move on to the future of flexible bendy devices, and also for people who despise the feel and alterations that screen protectors sometimes give devices. Personally, screen protectors don't bug me and I think I'd still put one on the device because I'm a paranoid parrot and I have the luck of a black cat standing under a ladder. I am interested to see if this material makes an appearance in our smartphones sometime within the next year or two though, and how it will stand up to devices that opted for the use of graphene.
Readers, what do you think about sapphire glass? Would you rather have a stronger glass and keep the traditional look and feel of a smartphone, or would you rather have the flexibility and durability of a smartphone that uses graphene? Share your opinions with me!