There’s been a lot of talk about sapphire glass since Apple CEO Tim Cook sat down for an interview with ABC News last week. But aside from confirming that a new manufacturing plant the company purchased in Mesa, Arizona last year will be used to produce sapphire glass, no other details were revealed. Seeking Alpha analyst Matt Margolis has a pretty interesting idea, though: He thinks Apple might be inscribing solar panels within sapphire glass screens for the next iPhone.
When you look at a lot of recent news about the company, this idea actually makes a good deal of sense. For starters, Apple has filed solar patents that will allow the company to power devices through solar cells. The company also hired a thin films engineer to “assist in the development and refinement of thin films technologies applicable to electronic systems.”
Apple then signed a $578 million contract with GT Advanced Technologies, which was just confirmed to be for sapphire glass in the aforementioned ABC News interview. The company also announced plans to spend $10.5 billion in 2014, on new production technology including robots and lasers. The company also posted job listings for manufacturing design engineers, with references to solar cells and lasers in the job description. And it was just reported that Apple manufacturing partner Foxconn recently assembled at least 100 prototype units of the next iPhone with sapphire displays.
In addition to all of this, Margolis notes that sapphire manufacturer GT has been able to significantly reduce the cost of sapphire glass, from $13-18 to just $3-5 per screen. That makes it a financially viable alternative to Corning’s Gorilla Glass, which costs $3 per screen.
Of course, none of this is a sure bet that Apple is actually planning to make a move towards sapphire screens or solar charging, but the pieces of the puzzle do fit together pretty well. The company is no stranger to the benefits of solar energy, with two solar farms and one fuel cell farm near its data center in North Carolina. And solar charging would be a huge step forward for mobile devices, which only consume more and more battery life as they become larger and more powerful. Then again, a solar panel the size of a phone screen wouldn’t generate all that much energy, and I’m not sure Apple would go down this route unless it provided a measurable benefit.