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New Chinese handset shows consumers remain fixated on sapphire iPhones

Apple's iPhone component choices are once again a trending topic of conversation following the announcement of a low-cost, sapphire-covered smartphone from a little-known Chinese electronics firm.

Huizhou-based conglomerate Desay unveiled its new $160 Magical Mirror X5 earlier this week, an event that would ordinarily have attracted little fanfare. The device— which sports a 5-inch 720p display, a 13-megapixel rear camera, and a 4G LTE modem— seems to be a loss leader designed to boost interest in Desay's nascent in-house electronics brand, as the Wall Street Journal believes its sale price is unlikely to cover its manufacturing costs.

However, the Magical Mirror X5 has two aces up its sleeve: its sapphire-covered display and the fact that another Desay unit, Desay Battery, is a known Apple supplier.

Those facts have propelled the X5, which is only available from a single mobile carrier in mainland China, to the top of the technology blogosphere. At press time, more than a dozen news articles— many from major publications— mention the words "Apple" or "iPhone" alongside Desay's new handset.

"Apple Supplier Desay Unveils 'Unbreakable' Sapphire-Screen Phone," reads the Journal's headline. "Next iPhone could feature 'unbreakable' sapphire screen as Apple supplier boosts production," says the International Business Times.

This breathless reporting comes despite the very public failure of Apple's sapphire joint venture in Arizona and after the unveiling of the Apple Watch, which includes a sapphire-covered display on some models and was likely the impetus for the company's sapphire search. Apple also uses sapphire for the Touch ID home button and rear camera lens cover in its iPhone lineup, nearly 70 million of which are thought to have been sold in the last three months of 2014.

That none of those facts have tamped down the speculation regarding an expanded role for sapphire in the next-generation iPhone simply underscores the strange fascination that technology journalists and technophiles have with the hard-but-brittle material. Like Liquidmetal before it, sapphire may become Apple fans' latest white whale.