There’s been a lot of talk over the past few months about the distinct possibility that smartphones of the future will begin using sapphire to protect their faces. MIT Technology Review suggested as much in March, noting that the material is stronger than Corning Incorporated (NYSE:GLW)‘s ubiquitous Gorilla Glass.
That comes at a cost, though, and sapphire is still too pricey for mainstream adoption among OEMs. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has begun using sapphire in the camera lens cover in the iPhone 5. This is notable because Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) also sparked Gorilla Glass adoption in the first place, yet the Mac maker may be contemplating a new material for the front of future iPhones.
Gorilla Glass has quickly become an important cash cow for Corning Incorporated (NYSE:GLW) in the past few years, with the specialty materials segment now comprising 17% of sales. That’s up from the 6% of sales that the division represented as recently as 2009. Sapphire vendors like GT Advanced Technologies Inc (NASDAQ:GTAT) could represent disruptive threats to the Gorilla Glass business if they can offer compelling sapphire alternatives at reasonable costs. GT Advanced Technologies Inc (NASDAQ:GTAT) believes it can apply a thin layer of sapphire to mobile devices as one potential method of reducing costs.
It turns out that Corning Incorporated (NYSE:GLW) isn’t scared of sapphire. The glass specialist has conducted a number of in-house tests to see how sapphire stacks up with its latest Gorilla Glass 3, with its own product coming out on top.
The study involves placing two devices — one covered in sapphire and another sporting Gorilla Glass — into a spinning container full of everyday objects. After a 45-minute twirl, both materials are subjected to a ring-on-ring strength test that applies pressure. Corning Incorporated (NYSE:GLW) says that Gorilla Glass withstands more than 2.5 times as much force.
This was a proprietary study that was presumably stacked in Corning’s favor, and third-party tests are yet to be released measuring the two materials. The tumble test of simulating real-world stress is common, but Corning Incorporated (NYSE:GLW) hasn’t released a detailed report of its results beyond the video linked above.
Even if sapphire does prove to be a threat in the future, at least Corning Incorporated (NYSE:GLW) is proactively assessing the danger. The company may not be scared yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future.
The article Why Corning Isn’t Scared of This Disruptive Threat To Its Newest Cash Cow originally appeared on Fool.com and is written by Evan Niu, CFA.
Fool contributor Evan Niu, CFA, owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Corning. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Corning.
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