iPhone 6 with sapphire screen may not appear this year -- analyst

Debate has surfaced regarding if and when Apple will outfit its new iPhone with the uber-hard substance. JP Morgan's Rod Hall, for one, doesn't see it in the immediate cards.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

This alleged sapphire iPhone 6 screen seems able to ward off a knife attack. Marques Brownlee/YouTube/screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

An iPhone 6 with a sapphire screen may be hard pressed to reach consumers this year. At least, that's the take from the crystal ball of JP Morgan analyst Rod Hall.

In an investors note released Monday, Hall responded to two articles from last week that speculated on the viability of a sapphire-screened iPhone. An article the Wall Street Journal claimed that an iPhone with a screen made of sapphire will roll out this year, albeit with a higher price tag for consumers and assuming Apple can score enough supply of the material.

A related article from TechCrunch said that Apple has cooked up a way to offset the high manufacturing cost of sapphire glass, meaning consumers wouldn't be saddled with a higher price. TechCrunch's piece said that all will be revealed September 9 -- the date when Apple is expected to host a launch event to introduce its new iPhone or iPhones. However, TechCrunch didn't speculate as to whether a sapphire-screened iPhone would actually hit the market this year.

Considered the third-hardest mineral, sapphire --or synthetic sapphire in the case of smartphone screens -- is seen by many as a sort of holy grail for phones because it's very difficult to break and nearly scratch resistant. Proponents of the substance claim that it is stronger and tougher than the Gorilla Glass currently used for the iPhone screens. Gorilla Glass maker Corning disagrees.

Either way, sapphire's hardness creates a challenge since the synthetic material is difficult and costly to produce and cut into the right shapes. If Apple could somehow keep the manufacturing costs down, a sapphire-equipped screen could be a major selling for the next iPhone.

What is Hall's take on all this? The analyst said he sees some elements of truth in the reports from both the Journal and TechCrunch.

"At the end of the day we see two possibilities for the iPhone 6 -- either Apple produces a small number of high end devices with sapphire or they produce none," Hall said in his note. "Although we have channel indications that some sapphire devices will be produced, we actually lean toward Apple selling no sapphire phones this year. On sapphire as a feature -- we see it as a huge phone seller. The screens are reportedly unscratchable (except by diamond) and virtually indestructible. We believe most people will want sapphire when and if it ever becomes available."