iPhone 6: More bling? Apple's tills: Ka

Sapphire seems to be one of the latest fads for smartphones, thanks to the purported iPhone 6 which is reportedly set to be unveiled on Sept 9 and to come with a sapphire screen.

Chinese phone maker Huawei announced on Tuesday that it would be selling, in limited numbers, a sapphire edition of its 5-inch Ascend P7 smartphone from next month.

Other Chinese handset manufacturers - Xiaomi and Vivo - are mulling over the use of sapphire screens too, going by reports in recent weeks.

This isn't the brilliant blue gemstone we're familiar with, but a colourless man-made version that could be blended with other materials.

Having a gemstone associated with the iPhone is certainly attention grabbing. But do I really need a sapphire screen for my phone?

The sapphire rumour has its roots in the partnership between Apple and sapphire manufacturer GT Advanced Technologies in November.

Sapphire screens are being considered to adorn the pricier models of two iPhones that Apple plans to unveil, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, citing sources.

Why the fascination with sapphire?

According to material-science experts, a sapphire screen is far more scratch-resistant than one made of Gorilla Glass, which is used in many smartphones now, such as the iPhone 5s.

This means putting a sapphire phone in my pocket with my keys won't result in unsightly scratches on the handset's screen. The same can't be said for Gorilla Glass phones.

There have been concerns that sapphire is more expensive to make than Gorilla Glass, which could push up prices of iPhones.

It used to cost US$30 (S$37) to make a sapphire screen, GT told technology blog Pocketnow in April last year. A Gorilla Glass display is cheaper to manufacture at US$3 a screen.

Even so, GT said that, with new technology, it could cost less than US$10 to make a sapphire panel this year.

Any rise in the iPhone 6's price would likely be due to the phone's larger screen size, industry observers have said, with one analyst claiming this could be as much as US$100.

Apple is expected to announce 4.7- and 5.5-inch iPhones, which are larger than last year's 4-inch iPhone 5s.

Sapphire has other problems, though.

Gorilla Glass maker Corning and other experts have said that sapphire breaks more easily than Gorilla Glass.

This means there's a higher chance of a cracked display after dropping the sapphire iPhone 6.

Corning said sapphire is also 1.6 times heavier than Gorilla Glass.

Sapphire does not transmit light as well as glass. So, to achieve the same brightness as glass screens, sapphire ones could suck up a phone's battery more quickly, Corning and material-science experts said.

With so many issues, sapphire phone displays seem to be more trouble than they're worth to me.

But, should Apple release an iPhone with a sapphire panel, many consumers will probably still lap up the feature. It's hard to argue against the terrific marketing opportunity to use sapphire to stand out from rivals.

Sapphire displays are not easy to make too, so Apple can certainly claim 'iPhone 6 has our most dazzling screen to date' and go on to extol its engineering marvels.

So, people earning enough dough will have more reason to pull out their new luxe iPhone 6 and flaunt it. Owning a potentially more brittle phone isn't an issue too for these people - they can just buy a new one after dropping it.

But I'm not loaded with cash and can make do with a $2 to $20 screen protector to save my phone from nicks.

kennyc@sph.com.sg Get MyPaper for more stories.


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