Corning, whose Gorilla Glass is the default standard for many touchscreen tablet and smartphone devices, has been seeding the media with hints about its new Project Phire lately, which apparently approaches the scratch resistance of pure sapphire when used for screens. As yet, there’s no confirmation on the Corning website, but the original report on CNET quotes a speech at an investor presentation by James Clappin, president of Corning Glass Technologies, stating that the new project will combine the shatterproof and drop resistance durability of its existing Gorilla Glass with sapphire’s scratch resistance.
Exactly why Corning is so eager to follow in the now muddy and mussed footsteps of Apple, whose recent venture into sapphire technology turned out to be both contentious and litigious, isn’t clear. As extensive court and other reports revealed Apple’s bid to source sapphire in bulk for the iPhone 6 screen drove its chosen supplier, GT Advanced Technologies, into bankruptcy. GT wasn’t exactly polite about Apple’s tactics and contractual arrangements either, accusing it of one-sided and onerous terms in the course of its bankruptcy. But the fundamental difficulty in the whole process that led to GT’s problems is to grow enough sapphire in clean enough conditions, cheaply enough, for large-scale industrial use.
There’s no indication as to how Corning plans to get around this problem – although they do seem to be addressing all the noise around sapphire for the benefit of their investors. I’m sure Corning does have such research projects under way. Whether they do mature into a full commercial product – and indeed, whether the world needs it – is another question.