Rumor: Apple Supplier Foxconn Testing Production of Sapphire iPhone

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Source: Apple.comApple (NASDAQ:AAPL) supplier Foxconn — also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry — has successfully completed a trial production run of about 100 iPhone prototypes with sapphire displays, according to sources cited by the Taiwan-based Apple Daily via Apple Insider. Sapphire is stronger and more scratch-resistant than the Corning (NYSE:GLW) Gorilla Glass currently used by Apple for its devices. However, sapphire is also more expensive to produce, more difficult to polish and harder to cut.

According to Apple Daily’s sources, Apple’s two major suppliers of sapphire — Synopsys (NASDAQ:SNPS) and Bern Optics – have recently expanded their operations with a “massive purchase of new equipment.” Although Apple currently only uses sapphire as a protective cover for the Touch ID fingerprint scanner and the iPhone’s camera lens, it already consumes 10 percent of the world’s sapphire supply, reports Apple Daily.  However, as noted by Apple Daily, the sapphire suppliers’ recent investment in new equipment seems to suggest that Apple’s demand for sapphire is about to increase.

Last year, Apple’s announcement of a partnership with sapphire manufacturer GT Advanced Technologies (or, GTAT) sparked speculation that the iPhone maker would soon begin using sapphire as the primary material for its mobile device touchscreens. According to GT Advanced Technologies, Apple’s $578 million investment “accelerated the development of its next generation, large capacity ASF [Advanced Sapphire Furnaces] furnaces to deliver low cost, high volume manufacturing of sapphire material.” Although some industry watchers believe Apple is preparing to replace Gorilla Glass with sapphire, others speculate that the sapphire production may be intended for a new product, such as an iWatch.

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