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July 25, 2014

iPhone 6 Will Feature Sapphire Screen -- And "Sapphire" Isn't a Brand Name. I Mean Actual Sapphire.

Apple charges a hefty premium for its tech -- you can get equivalent (or better) non-Apple tech for less money. But Apple can put bigger-than-industry-standard profit margins on its tech because it has had devoted fans who think that it's just that good.

Maintaining this cultish devotion is difficult. When they put out, say, an iPhone 5, nice but not featuring any new technological breakthroughs, people kind of get annoyed at them for merely putting out a good (if overpriced) product.

Their fans want wizardry. It's what they demand. It's what they're paying for.

So for the iPhone 6, apparently they are going to offer something inarguably neat. The screen will be made of "corundum," which is the crystal aluminum oxide of sapphire, artificially created. (It won't be bluish -- sapphires are blue due to (pretty) imperfections and chemical adulterants in the crystal matrix.)

Why? Because it's very hard to break, and it's nearly impossible to scratch. Diamond has a hardness of 10, but sapphire checks in at a pretty respectable 9.

But I don't think that's the real reason for it-- I think the real reason is that Apple needs a wow factor for its new phone, and, even though I'm an Apple skeptic, I have to concede that a screen made of synthetic sapphire is at least a lower-level "Wow." At the very least it's a Gee-Whiz.*

Apple needs this phone to be a huge seller, too, because something like two thirds of current iPhone owners have a phone that's three or more years old. That is, they're due for an update, and they just need an excuse to buy a new phone. (They're putting in a big, big order from their mostly Chinese suppliers for this roll-out.)

Eh, pretty neat, I think. I appreciate all the advances in computer technology and so forth, but I always wonder: Where are the more tangible sci-fi advances, like in material science?

* The Forbes article notes that one can make a "sapphire" screen cheaper by actually producing some kind of mix of actual sapphire and much-less-exciting hard glass. I don't know if Apple will be offering a true all-sapphire screen, or some kind of mix, to save on costs.

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posted by Ace at 04:14 PM

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