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Apple 'sapphire glass' fronts for iPhone 6? It's NEWS to SUPPLIERS

Analyst: iThing factories can't make 'em without components

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Several Apple analysts have speculated over the past few months that the next iPhone and perhaps even the near-mythical iWatch will use super-tough sapphire glass in some capacity.

But that claim has been thrown into question after the industrial analysis firm TrendForce claimed a tiny issue – not actually having the sapphire glass to do this – might hamper production.

The Taiwanese analyst claimed that despite talk of an Arizona factory that would churn the stuff out, global production for sapphire glass has shown no uptick to date, which is not what you might expect if Cupertino was about to flood the market with phones using the wonder material.

Crucially, the material does not appear to have been sent to Apple's manufacturing partners ahead of the expected September launch, adds the analyst.

TrendForce suggested that perhaps sapphire model of the iPhone would be rolled out in relatively small numbers, with a full sapphire blitzkreig only following if the first run is successful.

The analyst wrote: "The much anticipated sapphire cover glass remains missing from the picture. Analysis of the iPhone 6 supply chain indicates related component suppliers need to ship products to OEMs for assembly in June 2014 to meet the September launch date.

"Yet, the research institute did not discover demands for smartphone cover glass. The sapphire glass version new iPhone will be issued in limited volumes this year, mostly because sapphire ingot manufacturers yield rates were lower than forecasts and issues involved in sapphire glass processing."

It also said "further observations were required" to decide whether Apple would use sapphire glass in its iWatch.

"Since sapphire glass processing is relatively difficult, it would be problematic to mass produce sapphire watch cover glass," the analyst continued. "Additionally, sapphire glass processing will become even more strenuous if the wearable device uses flexible OLED panels."

As a consequence, the limited demand for sapphire glass has failed to generate a "price uptick". In fact, Trendforce pointed out, sapphire ingot, substrate and patterned sapphire substrate (PSS) prices have all dropped in July 2014, with some product prices down by between five and 10 percent.

However, this could all change in the second half of 2014, particular if iPhone sales are positive.

Sapphire glass is already used in the fingerprint detector of the iPhone 5S and has been in widespread use across the luxury watch market for several years. ®

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