While a recent article from The New York Times has the blogosphere aflutter with speculation about new devices from Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) that will employ new flexible glass technology from Corning Incorporated (NYSE:GLW) , there seems to be a distinct misunderstanding of where the technology is going. Willow Glass, the new product from the makers of Gorilla Glass, is absolutely a critical advance. Unfortunately for Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), however, and to the benefit of both Samsung and Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), the technology is but a small part of the story that can easily be misunderstood and morphed into something it is not. Without meaning to suggest that the story, or the reporting that it has spawned, is intentionally misleading, the winners of this race seem to be Samsung and Corning.
At the core of the story is the news that Cupertino may be working on a new device in the wristwatch form factor. The device will apparently utilize the new curved glass technology available from Corning. The Times Nick Bilton goes on to explain: “Last year, Corning, the maker of the ultra-tough Gorilla Glass that is used in the iPhone, announced that it had solved the difficult engineering challenge of creating bendable glass, called Willow Glass, that can flop as easily as a piece of paper in the wind without breaking.”
Where the story seems to take a massive leap forward is when Bilton shares that two people close to the story said that the new Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) evice will “stand apart from competitors based on the company’s understanding of how such glass can curve around the human body.” When this is combined with the explanation provided by Corning Glass Technologies’ Chief Technology Officer Pete Bocko that Willow Glass could be used to wrap around a human wrist, the implication is that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is in the process of developing a flexible device.
Flexible glass is not the same as a flexible device
A careful reading of the Willow Glass webpage reveals that the products “will support thinner backplanes and color filters for both Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLED) and liquid crystal displays (LCD) in high performance, portable devices such as smart phones, tablets, and notebook computers.” What does this mean? The glass, which is a major technological advance in its own right, is exactly what it sounds like: a piece of glass. Unless it is laid over something, it is nothing more than a protective layer wrapped around something else.
The application of Willow Glass in a watch makes sense if the face and guts of the watch do not need to bend and move. The implication of the story, however, seems to be that the underlying product will be flexible as well. Essentially, the ability to wrap the glass around the human body is of almost no meaning for the development of a flexible device, unless what is underneath can bend as well.