Glassmaker Corning just unveiled its newest version of Gorilla Glass, the chemically strengthened super glass that dozens of consumer electronics makers use in their devices.
Called Gorilla Glass 5, the new glass was formulated to improve drop performance from gadgets that are dropped onto rough surfaces from certain heights — specifically, waist height to shoulder height. Selfie-fumblers rejoice: Corning says Gorilla Glass 5 survives up to 80 percent of the time when dropped from 1.6 meters.
The new glass is the successor to Corning Gorilla Glass 4, which was introduced in the fall of 2014. Gorilla Glass 4 was said to be twice as tough as the previous version of its glass and twice as likely to survive drops onto uneven surfaces — but only from about a meter high.
Two-thirds of smartphone drops happen from waist height or higher, Corning says
Internal research done by Corning showed that 85 percent of smartphone owners have dropped their phones at least once in the past year, and that two-thirds of those drops happening from waist height to shoulder height. So while previous versions of the Glass may have been strong, it wasn't necessarily as durable if you dropped your phone while pulling it from your pocket or while taking a photo. And rough surfaces are particularly brutal for delicate smartphones, so much of Corning's research and development of the new glass involved drops on rough surfaces.
There are a few caveats to these claims around the new Gorilla Glass. The first is that the 80 percent survival rate Corning achieved in tests was with pieces of glass that were 0.6mm thick. Corning now makes glass as thin as 0.4mm, so smartphone OEMs that opt for thinner glass or go with more rigid smartphone designs may see different results.
What about corner drops?
Also, most of the new glass demos seen today at Corning's Silicon Valley offices were face drops, meaning the dummy phone was dropped flat on its face, rather than onto its corner or edge (which, incidentally, is how I just cracked my own phone's display). I asked Corning's vice president and general manager John Bayne about the new glass's resilience in such cases; Bayne said it depends on the overall design of the phone, not just the glass.
"What will define the performance of the overall device on those types of corner drops is stiffness of the phone design, but also how the glass is packaged," Bayne said. Much of this is dependent on what's known as the "proudness" of the glass, which refers to how high above the phone the glass sits. "If it sits up really high, we call that a proud design. If it's protected by the bezel of the design then, it's - not proud. So if you have a device that has a proud design, that one wouldn't perform as well as one that had a different design."
"And as we go to 3D designs, the edge is more exposed ... and you have to be sensitive to that," he added.
Basically, Corning is saying that the onus is on the OEMs in some cases, and not on Corning. Corning works with some manufacturers throughout the design process, but others are more protective of their designs.
Older versions of Gorilla Glass.
Gorilla Glass first started showing up in consumer electronics devices in 2007. Since then the company has iterated on the glass to improve overall durability and scratch-resistance while also making it thinner. At the time Gorilla Glass first shipped, global smartphone penetration was only around 10 percent; now it's nearly 75 percent. Corning says 4.5 billion device units have been shipped with its glass to date. Manufacturers like Samsung, HTC, Lenovo, Huawei, LG, HP, and Asus have all made devices using the glass, along with other unnamed device makers.
Gorilla Glass 5 is in production now and the company says we should hear more about it "in the next few months." So, there's a decent chance it will be ready just in time for all of the fall hardware events.
The story has been updated to add more details around the thickness of the glass and dynamics of smartphone corner drops versus face drops.