(Phys.org)—An iPhone 5 with a layer of man-made sapphire covering its Gorilla Glass 2 screen has been demoed at the Mobile World Congress 2013 in Barcelona. The purpose was to demonstrate how much more scratch resistant a screen with such a covering can be. Representatives from GT Advanced Technologies, a company that manufactures sapphire for industrial purposes, rubbed the screen phone with cement to prove just how scratch resistant the material is.
Sapphire in its natural state is, of course, prized for its beauty—its unique deep blue hues have made it a favorite for jewelry enthusiasts for thousands of years. More recently, scientists have learned to make the material, which is mostly aluminum oxide—they grow it at high temperatures over a long period of time. The result is a glass-like material that has a hardness factor of 9 on the Mohs scale—second only to diamond. Because of that, sapphire won't show scratches when exposed to abrasives, a feature that makes it very desirable for hand-held electronics. Holding back widespread use of the material, is of course, the high cost of making it. But that might be changing, and that's why GT Advanced Technologies has been demonstrating an iPhone with a sapphire covered screen. As more uses are found for sapphire, more of it is made, and that leads to economies of scale, which in turn leads to lower prices.
Currently, sapphire is still approximately three to four times as expensive as other strengthened glass options, and the production method is inadequate for producing the kind of volume that would be needed if phone and tablet makers started using it as a screen cover—but that's not to say it won't happen. One phone maker, Vertu Ti, has already committed to using the material for its admittedly very expensive Android phone, and even Apple is already using sapphire to protect the rear camera lens on iPhones currently being sold. The aerospace industry also uses man-made sapphire to protect sensitive camera lenses on satellites. What this all means is that production costs are dropping and money is being spent by companies such as GT Advanced Technologies to development a way to mass produce the material, which means, that in the not-too-distant future, phone owners won't have to panic if they suddenly remember they put their cell phone in the same pocket as their car keys.
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