A few years back, Apple made the ill-fated decision to invest in a sapphire plant in Arizona with the goal of using sapphire as the new cover glass for iPhones. As we all know, that deal imploded and their quest for a totally scratchproof glass cover was put on hold.
At Creative Strategies, we have been doing extensive research on the role of glass in the world of tech so, on a recent trip to Corning’s HQ, I got a deep dive on their Gorilla Glass and other technologies they have in the works that would both strengthen and deliver a better scratch resistant glass cover. While there, I heard about something called Project Phire. Although not much was known about it at the time (I was there in early spring and they shared no details with me), it appeared to be some type of new glass material that had similar properties to sapphire and was to be pretty much scratchproof. Apparently, Corning has been working on this project for a couple of years and only in late 2015 did they even mention it as a possible product during one of their financial analysts briefings.
Recently, Corning finally announced a new glass product called Gorilla Glass SR+ which had used the code name Phire for the last two years. It is specifically designed for wearable devices. Corning says it is “a new glass composite that significantly reduces visible scratches while delivering the toughness, optical clarity and touch sensitivity that make Gorilla Glass famous.”
I spoke with Scott Forester, director, innovation products, Corning Gorilla Glass, and he told me “Corning Gorilla Glass SR+ delivers a superior combination of properties that is not available in any other material today – it is in a class of its own.” He also said in lab tests Corning Gorilla Glass SR+ demonstrated superior scratch resistance approaching that of alternative luxury cover materials, while delivering up to 70 percent better damage resistance against impacts and 25 percent better surface reflection than those alternative materials. Improvements in optical performance enable longer battery life and improved outdoor readability.
Although Corning says it is for wearables, it could also be of interest to the major luxury watch makers as it has the kind of properties they look for in a watch cover and is lighter and has improved outdoor readability features too. But it should really be a boon for the makers of smartwatches and sports and activity wearable devices as these types of applications demand durability and true scratchproof properties as they take quite a beating in an active lifestyle.
As I look at what Corning has done with Gorilla Glass SR+, it seems to me they are being extremely aggressive in evolving their core Gorilla Glass technology and GG SR + is an important example of their technology prowess and continuing capabilities. Over the years, I have met with dozens of suppliers of all types of components and, in most cases if they evolve a product, it is mostly incremental. This is especially true with a lot of component and materials suppliers I deal with in Asia.
The breakthroughs Corning has had with GG SR+ is apparently scalable and, over time, could find its way into smartphones as well. This of course is the holy grail for smartphone glass covers. Corning’s current version of Gorilla Glass 5 is already scratch resistant but still not in the same class of sapphire covers even though they are expensive and hard to make in mass quantities. But with these new engineering developments by Corning, the company is clearly on track to potentially deliver a glass cover that will be as close to sapphire as possible and could eventually be made in large numbers to meet the needs of mid to high-end smartphones.
Although Corning is most famous for its Gorilla Glass installed on millions of smartphones each year, they are constantly evolving their glass technology to meet the ever-growing demands of the consumer. These new glass technologies are impacting smart cars, smart homes and a plethora of applications where glass is key to functionality. The role glass will play in our tech future will only grow and will demand glass materials that can meet the demands of millions of tech products and gadgets in the future. With Gorilla Glass SR+, Corning has taken a major step in delivering the kinds of glass materials we will need in wearables, smartphones and other gadgets of the future and are making it possible for tech companies to continue to innovate.