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Sapphire displays for iPhone 6 may be hard to come by: report

John Cox | Aug. 7, 2014
Whether Apple can deliver the iPhone 6 with super-tough synthetic sapphire displays is still very much up in the air, according to a press release from a research firm that tracks the materials industry. Unspecified "bottlenecks at various levels" of the sapphire production process mean that Apple may limit this year's introduction of sapphire iPhone displays or possibly even scrap the plan.

Yet that is only a fraction of the number of new smartphones Apple realistically will sell in the final months of this year, if it releases the iPhone 6 in late September or October. In Oct-Nov. 2013, Apple sold just over 51 million iPhones (the newly announced iPhone 5s and 5c, and the older iPhone 4s). The last time Apple sold as few as 5.2 million iPhones was the Apr-June 2009 quarter. [Statista has the full history of quarterly iPhone unit sales]

What's more, Virey says he estimates the current supply chain capacity is only about 2.1 million units per month. "If yields don't improve rapidly, Apple walking away from sapphire is still a possible scenario," he says. He adds that he "believes that moderate quantities of supplemental material is currently being sourced from GTAT equipment customers in China."

But even with that added material, he says Apple won't have enough sapphire for all of the 2014 iPhones. That leaves several possibilities: one, as mentioned, is Apple walking away from the sapphire plan entirely, though that seems unlikely unless there are persistent yield problems due to scale or quality; second, aiming for 2015 to introduce sapphire; three, introducing sapphire on one model; more specifically, Virey says, on one SKU, or stock keeping unit, which could, for example, be one configuration of a 4.7- or 5.5-inch model.

"Releasing at least one SKU with sapphire would allow Apple to gauge customer response and decide if it should adopt sapphire on more models, plan for more investment in the supply chain or simply walk away," Virey says.

 

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