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Friday, May 23, 2014, 07:42 am PT (10:42 am ET)

Apple scuttlebutt spurs Samsung to seek sapphire solutions for smartphones

The ever-present rumors that Apple will move from Corning's Gorilla Glass to a new screen covering based on sapphire in its next-generation iPhone are said to have caused South Korean competitors Samsung and LG to look at the material more closely, according to a Friday report.

Mesa

Apple-GT Advanced sapphire manufacturing plant in Arizona.


Both companies are thought to have evaluated sapphire last year as well, eventually passing on it for cost reasons. Word of the Asian conglomerates' about-face came from Korea's etnews.com and was first noticed by GforGames.

As a result of Apple's widely-anticipated move — made ever more likely by the company's $578 million investment in an Arizona sapphire facility — Samsung and LG have asked Asian sapphire manufacturers to provide new samples for consideration. It would likely take at least one year before Samsung could adopt the material, with the company's new flagship Galaxy S5 handset being released only last month.

Many Apple watchers believe that the iPhone maker's sapphire play is not meant for smartphones or tablets, but instead for the so-called "iWatch." Sapphire is a common component in watches thanks to its exceptional scratch resistance, but it is ultimately extremely brittle, rendering it susceptible to shattering when dropped.

Still others think that Apple is aiming its investment at a more utilitarian need. Each of the nearly 200 million iOS devices sold each year ships with a sapphire lens on its rear-facing camera, while the material also forms the touch surface of the iPhone 5s's Touch ID system, which is likely to make its way to the iPad this year.