A few months ago, Corning unveiled the latest revision of its signature Gorilla Glass. Yet again, the company claimed to have produced a stronger glass that’s more resistant to common drops and accidents that your smartphone can experience in everyday use. Since it’s still so new, only a tiny list of manufacturers (including Samsung) are using Gorilla Glass 4 at this point, but Corning is already looking ahead to what’s next. Today, as reported by CNET, the company announced Project Phire, a new product that promises to combine Gorilla Glass 4’s damage resistance with “scratch resistance that approaches sapphire.”
In the months leading up to Apple’s iPhone 6 launch, many expected the company’s current flagship to move away from glass — which has been supplied by Corning for years — in favor of sapphire. Apple has already confirmed that its Apple Watch will be coated with the (nearly) scratch-proof material. But any hopes for bringing sapphire to the iPhone’s screen unceremoniously collapsed when Apple’s partner GT Advanced abruptly filed for bankruptcy. Now, Apple says it’s going to convert that plant into a data center. But Corning is very much aware of Apple’s deep interest in sapphire; there’s no company with more to lose if Cupertino takes its business elsewhere.
Corning has long maintained that traditional sapphire is fantastic for guarding against scratches, but doesn’t hold up nearly as well when dropped. It’s prone to shattering, and that’s probably not a good match for devices that we carry in our pockets every single day. But consumers are mindful about keeping scratches away from their nice smartphone displays; just look at how popular tempered glass screen protectors have become in recent months. But rather than switch to sapphire completely, Corning claims it’s found the perfect middle ground.
Project Phire sounds like a glass that can survive an unexpected meeting with pavement, but also come out unscathed if there’s sand in your pocket after a day on the beach. Seeing is believing when it comes to this sort of thing, so there’s no telling if the promise will pan out. If it does, Corning could lock itself in as the glass supplier for Apple — and every other huge smartphone maker — for years to come. The company plans to start selling Project Phire (likely under a different name) to manufacturers “later this year.”