You don't need a crystal ball to get a glimpse of what the future holds for phones. You just need to take a closer look at the glass. promises better protection against drops and scratches and gives us a few more clues about what the next generation of iPhones and Galaxy phones could feature.
Better durability over time
Since its launch of Gorilla Glass 6 in 2018, Corning has been working on toughening up its glass specifically designed for mobile devices. The New York based company, supplies glass for companies like Samsung and on its iPhones. This time rather than focusing on drop resistance as in previous years, the company has made scratch resistance a top priority as well.
Its latest endeavor is Gorilla Glass Victus, which can survive drops of up to two meters (6 ft 6 in), compared to the maximum drop height of 1.6 meters for Gorilla Glass 6. It's also twice as scratch-resistant.
"We don't want the deciding factor on the lifetime of a phone to be that it broke," says John Bayne, head of Corning's Gorilla Glass business.
It takes two things for glass to fail, according to Bayne: a scratch and a fall. That's likely the reason why some phones don't break if they happen to land on a smooth surface. But once flaws like scratches from storing the phone in your pocket or bag are introduced, or the phone lands on a rough surface, the phone is more prone to break. It's the reason why Corning uses sandpaper to drop-test phones since it closely resembles the texture of asphalt, which can cause scratches on impact.
Lighter and thinner design
Tougher glass enables manufacturers like Samsung and Apple to make the glass thinner without sacrificing durability. By shaving off a few fractions of a millimeter from the glass, the phone in general can be thinner and lighter.
"That's the tradeoff," says Bayne. "Do they use all the improvement in the glass for durability, or do I share some of the benefit in the design space?"
In addition to thickness, the shape can affect the durability of the phone. So even if manufacturers all use some version of Gorilla Glass Victus, whether or not they decide to curve the glass or keep it straight changes the phone's level of durability.
As camera modules, their lenses become a lot more susceptible to cracks too.
"I think you'll see more focus on what glass they're using [on the camera] and how's that glass being protected with surface treatments or composite materials to improve both the optics and the durability," says Bayne.
Despite camera repairs costing as much, if not more, than screen repairs, phone makers have opted for less durable materials like sapphire, which is very resistant against scratches, instead of the latest Gorilla Glass.
"There's probably a wider range of material choices today being used on camera lens covers," says Bayne. "But I think you'll start to see a convergence to the optimal solution."
More glass, thinner frames and no cases
The use of glass may become more widespread as phones move toward 5G. Metal, for example, can interfere with antennas and is not conducive to wireless charging. Even the metal framing around some phones pose as an interference and manufacturers will be looking to make them thinner -- or eliminate them altogether.
"You may see an outside glass enclosure of either two pieces of glass mated together," says Bayne. "Or a single piece of glass, which is a hard problem to solve."
Plastic is another option that doesn't interfere with 5G, but it doesn't handle heat as well as glass. Even a plastic phone case that is supposed to protect a phone can cause it to overheat.
Though not a feature of Gorilla Glass Victus, Corning makes an antimicrobial glass solution for devices like laptops and ATMs. The company has partnered with case maker Otterbox to offer antimicrobial screen protectors for phones.
Bayne says the glass is currently being tested to see whether it protects against the novel coronavirus and that, if it does prove to be effective, phone makers could equip it on their devices as well.
Bendable glass: Not yet, but coming
Don't expect a bendable version of Victus anytime soon, but the company is continuing to develop the bendable glass we got a sneak peek of a few years back. And while it may not be ready for prime time this year, Bayne says the company is already working with manufacturers to bring it to foldable phones in the future.