Apple Reveals Sapphire iPhone Plans in New Patent

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Rumors of an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone with a sapphire display have been circulating ever since sapphire manufacturer GT Advanced Technologies (NASDAQ:GTAT) revealed that it had entered into a partnership with the California-based company. According to GT Advanced Technologies’ third-quarter report from last year, Apple paid $578 million “in advance for the purchase of sapphire goods.” GT Advanced Technologies also revealed that it entered into a lease agreement with an Apple affiliate for its sapphire plant in Mesa, Arizona.

Now, more evidence for a sapphire display iPhone has been found in a recent Apple patent application uncovered by Apple Insider. In a patent application titled, “Oleophobic Coating On Sapphire,” Apple described a new method for applying an oleophobic (or, oil-repelling) coating onto sapphire.

As noted by Apple in the patent background information, “oils and other deposits may affect [the] appearance and performance” of touch-sensitive input surfaces, “particularly where information is also displayed.” Touch-enabled display manufacturers use various surface treatments to address this problem. However, as noted by Apple, “not all surface treatments are compatible with all substrate materials.”

While sapphire has the advantage of being substantially harder than silica-based glass and other materials, the “oleophobic coatings and other polymer-based surface treatments are subject to different chemical bonding processes on alumina and silica-based substrates, and these different bonding properties may affect performance.” For example, Apple cited abrasion tests that showed “some coatings and surface treatments exhibit wear at a lower number of abrasive cycles when applied to sapphire glass and other alumina-based base layers (e.g., less than 300 cycles) as compared to silica glass where the coatings may not exhibit wear until a higher number of abrasive cycles (e.g., 300 cycles or more).” In other words, oleophobic coatings that work on the Corning (NYSE:GLW) Gorilla Glass currently used for Apple’s mobile devices may not necessarily work on sapphire.

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