How Apple’s sapphire-screened iPhone 6 plans went off track
In the weeks leading up to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus launches, no one seemed to be sure exactly what hardware we were going to get. Would only the 4.7-inch model arrive, with the 5.5-incher delayed until later? While we ultimately saw both handsets make their debut, they did so without one of the features that seemed like such a big components to these rumors going back months and months: a very scratch-resistant sapphire screen. After all, Apple has this huge investment in GT Advanced Technologies, which has reportedly been cranking-out sapphire for some time now. By the sound of things, we were going to see sapphire on at least one, if not both of these iPhone 6 models. So what went wrong? A new analyst report attempts to shed some light on the situation, describing it as a relatively last-minute decision in response to low yield rates.
According to these supply chain sources, the issues wasn’t that GTAT could produce enough sapphire, but that the plants in China tasked with turning the bulk sapphire panels into iPhone 6 display coverings were seeing abysmal yield rates for their finishing process – to the tune of just 25 percent meeting Apple’s standards.
Faced with the realization that there just wouldn’t be enough sapphire to meet launch demand, Apple reportedly switched its plans over to more traditional strengthened glass earlier this summer. The sapphire panels that failed the iPhone 6 quality test were instead cut down and re-purposed as iWatch displays.
But even with this hiccup, it sounds like it’s only a matter of time before those sapphire finishing issues get worked out, and yields are high enough to deliver a product suitable for inclusion in an iPhone – but how and when that will happen are now a much more complicated question. Will Apple hold out for the iPhone 7? Will a sapphire-edition iPhone 6 debut in a few months? For now, it’s an open question.