Apple is going to start mass producing sapphire, but it’s anyone’s guess why

Might Apple replace all those glass stairs with sapphire?
Might Apple replace all those glass stairs with sapphire?
Image: Apple
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The gumshoes at Apple-focused blog 9to5Mac dug deep into job listings and public documents to discover that Apple’s new manufacturing facility in Arizona will be producing sapphire, the hardest natural material after diamond. Based on some creative, perhaps even wishful, parsing of those documents, pundits are jumping to all sorts of conclusions—for example that Apple might make the screen in the rumored iWatchout of sapphire.

There’s a problem with all this speculation: The exchange between Apple and the board of the US Foreign Trade Zone doesn’t actually tell us anything about what Apple plans to build with its supply of sapphire, other than it’s “new.” It could be a “new” iPhone stand, for all we know.

There are also a number of issues with jumping to the conclusion that, for example, the iPhone 6 or the iWatch might have a sapphire screen. The first is that sapphire is heavy—60% heavier than Gorilla Glass, which Apple and pretty much every other high end smartphone maker currently uses in their devices. The second issue is that, while Sapphire is harder than Gorilla Glass, it’s more prone to shatter after it’s been scratched, or so says a test conducted by Corning, maker of Gorilla Glass.

Currently, sapphire is used in the lens of the iPhone’s camera and in its Touch ID sensor. What “magical” new experience it might enable in future Apple devices is anyone’s guess. Quartz’s prediction, which is as likely to be as accurate as anyone else’s: promotional tchotchkes for Apple’s annual employee awards.