Skip to main content

That sapphire glass iPhone would have been nice

That sapphire glass iPhone would have been nice


Scratch-free dreams are made of these

Share this story

I've been using an iPhone 6 since the start of this year. We've had a successful and mutually respectful relationship. The phone does what I need it to do (in most cases) and in return I take diligent care to keep it clean and fully charged. As careful as I've been, however, my iPhone has picked up numerous scratches over the few brief months we've been together. In that way, it's no different from any other smartphone — it's hard to find any surface that's intensively and regularly used by human hands that will remain pristine indefinitely — but it could have been.

At this point last summer, Apple was widely expected to upgrade its upcoming iPhone 6 model to a sapphire crystal display. The biggest advantage of sapphire? Scratch resistance. It was an odd topic of discussion, because, on the one hand, it sounds like a solution to such a trivial problem, scratches. And yet, that's an issue that we encounter consistently with every new wave of touchscreen-based electronics. Designers are pushing the boundaries of what they can do with aluminum, high-grade plastics, and glass, producing ever more perfect-looking devices, and then we go and spoil them with some unsightly scuff. It's aggravating.

The biggest advantage of sapphire? Scratch resistance

Popular YouTuber MKBHD got ahold of a prototype 4.7-inch sapphire glass screen allegedly intended for the prospective iPhone 6. He bent it, he twisted and stabbed it, and he even stepped on it. After that mini torture test, a close inspection of the panel revealed that "the worst blemish on the surface was actually [his] fingerprint marks." That's the sort of ruggedness I hope to see from all of my gadgets, and it might have left me with a still perfect-looking iPhone today. But alas, the sapphire-screened iPhone didn't come to pass, owing to major issues with manufacturing yield. Apple's primary supplier for sapphire crystals filed for bankruptcy shortly after the more conventional iPhone 6 was unveiled.

Today, Apple's big sapphire dream seems to have been contracted to the already established uses on the Apple Watch and the iPhone's lens cover and home button. No rumors of a return to sapphire crystals for this year's iPhone display. That's certainly a downer, leaving us with only limited-run devices like Vertu's Signature Touch and Huawei's special edition Ascend P7 Sapphire. Sapphire's greater durability also makes it extremely tough to work with, which is the main challenge standing in the way of producing it in the sort of quantities that Apple would require for an iPhone run.

Phones are too pretty to be kept in cases

I still hold out hope that Apple will eventually overcome the problems that hold sapphire crystal displays back from becoming a mainstream feature. Or if not Apple, then Samsung. And if not Samsung, Lenovo. It doesn't matter who — it just matters that one of the major worldwide smartphone makers cracks this problem. They promise us tougher and better glass every year, but even the Galaxy S6, with the latest Gorilla Glass 4, can be scratched (by Samsung's own case, ironically enough).

Phones are too pretty to be locked up in protective cases and too precious to be spoiled by the scratches and marks of daily life. A little sprinkling of sapphire, however, could be just the magic we need to keep them looking lovely.