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Sapphire glass maker GT Advanced files for bankruptcy, puts future sapphire iPhones in doubt

Tom Morgan
8 Oct 2014
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Apple's first choice supplier for Sapphire glass is in trouble, which means future iPhones aren't likely to use the toughened glass

GT Advanced Technologies, the company Apple chose to partner with to manufacture sapphire glass for the upcoming Apple Watch, has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy - throwing the possibility of future iPhone smartphones with sapphire glass displays into question.

According to AppleInsider, industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has suggested the bankruptcy filing signals "technology bottlenecks" in the manufacture of sapphire glass, for which Apple had invested $578 million. GT Advanced was chosen by Apple for its ability to produce superior sapphire glass compared to other manufacturers, and if it is struggling to manufacture larger panels it's unlikely the company will look elsewhere for a replacement.

Huo admits that "GTAT's ASF sapphire isn't the only sapphire ingot source for iPhone sapphire cover lens that is being tested by Apple," but says that it's unlikely Apple will "turn to other suppliers given the notionally superior drop-test performance of GTAT's sapphire ingot."

Because drop-tests are less stringent for smaller screens, the Apple Watch is unlikely to be affected - Apple will simply find another supplier able to produce sapphire glass in large numbers. However, until production methods improve resilience and drop test performance, any plans Apple might have had to use sapphire glass for future iPhone models will likely be put on hold.

The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus were originally rumoured to arrive with sapphire glass, but Apple reportedly reversed the decision at the last minute following concerns over its brittle nature when produced in large sizes. It instead opted for the latest Gorilla Glass, which is more likely to survive a drop than current sapphire glass technology.

It's unclear whether this last-minute change is what caused GT Advanced's poor financial standing. It's currently unclear whether the company can be saved, or what will happen to Apple's original investment in the Arizona plant the company used to manufacture sapphire glass.