It’s pretty clear that something went very wrong between Apple and its bankrupt sapphire supplier GT Advanced Technologies over the past year. There are good reasons to believe that Apple’s sapphire display plan for the iPhone 6 may have been doomed from the start because it seems both Apple and GT Advanced underestimated the major difficulties. These difficulties varied from needing to have an extremely clean environment during ongoing construction, to having uninterrupted supplies of water and electricity to regulate the temperature of the molten aluminum oxide. Apple declined to help install backup power supplies, thus multiple outages occurred, ruining whole batches of sapphire.
Sapphire, the world’s third hardest mineral, was supposed to drastically reduce or eliminate scratching on the surface, thus eliminating the need for screen protectors. It would be a huge selling point for those of us that seem to find some sort of way to scratch or drop our phone throughout any given day.
The Apple-GT marriage was troubled from the start. GT had never mass-produced sapphire before the Apple deal. The New Hampshire company’s first 578-pound cylinder of sapphire, made just days before the companies signed their contract, was flawed and unusable. GT hired hundreds of workers with little oversight; some bored employees were paid overtime to sweep floors repeatedly, while others played hooky.
All of which is a major problem in its own right, but add in the fact that Apple already uses one-fourth of the world’s supply of sapphire to cover the iPhone’s camera lens and fingerprint reader alone, upping that supply to cover screens is bound to exacerbate any preexisting problems—like, say, keeping track of the sapphire in the first place.
Manufacturing wasn’t the only problem. In August, one of the former workers said, GT discovered that 500 sapphire bricks were missing. A few hours later, workers learned that a manager had sent the bricks to recycling instead of shipping. Had they not been retrieved, the misfire would have cost GT hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Whether Apple or GT is ultimately at fault here we’ll likely never know. However, it may be safe in saying that given the huge difficulties Apple encountered in producing sapphire displays in its first attempt, you probably won’t get a sapphire display on the iPhone 6s or even the iPhone 7.