Why the iPhone 6 Isn't Rocking a Sapphire Crystal Display

Sapphire crystal, held up by analysts and industry watchers as a wonder material that's virtually indestructible, was a no-show as the display on the new iPhone 6.

It's an anticlimactic end to months of rumors that had Apple's latest smartphone more broadly using the premium material, which is already utilized for smaller iPhone components. Apple itself touched off the speculation after it inked a $578 million deal with manufacturer GT Advanced Technologies for "the purchase of sapphire goods," with some believing that those "goods" could be screens for Apple's next iPhone or a new wearable device.

After introducing the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus on Tuesday, Apple revealed that it opted to use a glass display to cover its smartphone, the highest-profile mobile device in the world and Apple's biggest revenue generator, bringing in $91.3 billion in sales last year. Corning, whose Gorilla Glass displays have been used in the iPhone since it first launched in 2007, couldn't confirm its glass is in the new iPhones but said it "continues to be an Apple supplier." Sapphire made its way onto the new Apple Watch as a display cover, though that use is far smaller in size than it would be in the smartphone.

Investors, who have traded up GT Advanced shares for much of the year, punished the stock Tuesday, driving it down 13 percent. Corning and Apple closed about flat.

"It's definitely seen as a disappointment in the overall sapphire market," said Jonathan Dorsheimer, an analyst covering GT Advanced for Canaccord Genuity. "This was a big, expected application to be used to usurp glass." However, he said, his firm still expects Apple will eventually switch to a sapphire display in its smartphones.

GT Advanced, which declined to comment Tuesday, warned last month of slow ramp up of sapphire production, which was seen as a hurdle to sapphire winning the job as the iPhone's new cover material. An Apple representative didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sapphire captivated the tech world, as it offered the potential of a nearly scratch-proof and more touch-sensitive display. It also provided a possible fresh competitor for Corning, whose Gorilla Glass is used in more than 2.7 billion devices worldwide. While chatter about sapphire displays on smartphones is likely to continue, questions remain about whether the material will be able to break out of mobile niches, such as luxury or rugged smartphones, and reach the mass market.

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