"What's kept sapphire from becoming a more mainstream product that you'd find in consumer devices has been related to the cost," he told PCWorld. "But it's coming down in its price and it's now reaching levels where it's viable to start looking at broader, higher volume markets."
A typical smartphone display made from Gorilla Glass costs less than $3, while a comparable sapphire screen would cost $30, although that might come down to $20 in a couple of years because of competition and improved technology.
Because of those costs, sapphire will probably start entering the consumer market at its edges in products that need sapphire's durability and scratch immunity but are not sold in high volumes.
"Things like ruggedized devices," Nestel-Patt said, "products made to operate in harsh envrionments that are produced in lower volumes and are not price sensitive."
He said that his company has enlisted independent testers to take the measure of sapphire. "The results that we're seeing are very positive," he said. "We believe that in terms of durability and scratch resistance it outperforms Gorilla Glass."
Since no head-to-head independent durability test results have been released to date, claims about the merits of the two materials is largely a case of he said, she said.
As smartphone screen sizes get bigger, durability is a big issue, observed David Anderson, director of product marketing for ProtectYourBubble.com, whose insurance lines includes smartphone breakage insurance.
But durability may be a function of design as well as materials.
"We're seeing twice as many damage claims from Samsung S devices than iPhones," he told PCWorld. "We think that has a lot to do with design."
"If you drop an iPhone, that stainless steel rim around it protects the phone if it hits the ground on its side," he explained. "The Galaxy S3 is much more fragile around the edges and is a slick device that can slip out of your hand. It doesn't take much for that glass edge to hit the concrete and break."
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