Apple leads moves to diversify sapphire substrate applications
The report shows that sapphire substrate non-LED applications are projected to reach 32 percent this year, with mobile device applications taking a 21 percent share, said LEDinside.
In 2012, Apple changed the iPhone 5 camera lens from plastic to sapphire. The material was even introduced into fingerprint recognition button for the iPhone 5S released a year later. Sapphire substrate was chosen for fingerprint recognition applications mainly because it is hard and highly scratch resistant which can prevent fingerprint sensors from scratching. Compared to glass, sapphire substrate has a wetting angle of 85 degrees, which prevents fingerprints from sticking to the home button and reduces misreadings. Apple’s promotion of the material triggered a new sapphire substrate craze on the market.
Many signs point to diversifying sapphire substrate applications in new products as Apple’s next goal. Future application possibilities include the upcoming iWatch cover, and even iPhone cover glass. Regardless of the type of application, all these point to diversification of sapphire substrate applications.
Sapphire substrate applications have diversified during the past three years. Sapphire substrate use for LED applications has tailed off from 79 percent in 2012 and is forecast to achieve a 68 percent share of the applications market in 2014.
Mobile home buttons (10 percent) have sneeked into second spot for the most popular use of sapphire substrates in 2014 just edging out windows (9 percent).
The biggest gainer is iWatch Cover Glass which will take a six percent share in 2014 despite not being even listed in 2012.
Although, Apple has great interest in sapphire cover glass for smartphone, there are still many obstacles for the tech giant to overcome, according to LEDinside observations. These include whether current sapphire production capacity can meet large smartphone demands? Huge cost differences between sapphire cover glass and tempered glass also continue to exist, making lowering sapphire manufacturing costs a crucial future factor.
Apple’s actions seem to indicate it is working towards the goal of materializing sapphire cover glass. Apple is optimizing the company’s supply chain management, and it has solidified relations with upstream manufacturers to prevent potential raw material shortages on the market. The company’s partnership with GTAT for instance, not only guarantees a steady supply of upstream sapphire ingots. Apple is also actively vertically integrating suppliers as can be seen by GTAT’s acquisition of upstream raw material manufacturers to ensure aluminum oxide raw material supply. In addition, Apple and Chinese glass processing supplier Biel Crystal has formed a partnership with sapphire manufacturer Roshow Technology, which further secures sapphire ingot supply. Apple has continued its tradition of managing its supply chain with an iron grip.
An increasing number of manufacturers are willing to introduce sapphire substrates into camera lens covers, but when it comes to sapphire cover glass most manufacturers shy away. The majority of manufacturers believe sapphire substrate prices must fall to about the same level as tempered glass before sapphire smartphone glass covers demand can take off. Another factor is whether the sapphire industry supply is large enough to meet client demands. Since there are high volume smartphone demands, any phone component that incorporates sapphire could create shortages in the sapphire substrate industry.
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