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Sapphire market loses lustre

Posted: 09 Feb 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Yole Developpement? Apple? GTAT? sapphire? smartphone?

The announcement by GTAT and Apple in late 2013 of a more than $1 billion combined investment to set up the largest sapphire crystal growth facility in the world had raised hopes that adoption of sapphire in smartphones would rapidly reach a massive scale, with Apple setting up the pace and forcing its competitor to follow suit. However, as things stand now, the sapphire market is about to execute a 180-degree turn as plans for its integration in smartphones may not come to pass.

"After a 2014 year full of hopes, the sapphire industry is entering 2015 with a lots of uncertainties," analysed Dr Eric Virey, senior, technology and market analyst, Yole Developpement. "Following a long period of depressed pricings and stagnating revenue, 2014 started with a welcome price recovery that lifted up the spirit of many industry players. But most of all, it was the prospect of a new killer application that had given reasons for optimism," he added.

Various second tier cell phone OEM upped their efforts in sapphire-related developments and tried to beat Apple by announcing or introducing smartphone models with sapphire display covers ahead of the highly anticipated iPhone 6 announcement. This prompted various sapphire manufacturers in China to announce plans for significant capacity increases to serve this market.

But the news that the iPhone 6 would not use a sapphire display cover, shortly followed by GTAT bankruptcy sent shockwaves in the industry and raised many questions:

  • Is Apple still interested in sapphire and will the display cover glass opportunity ever materialise in a large scale?
  • Is the technology ready?
  • What will happen to the more than 2000 high capacity furnaces installed by GTAT and Apple?
  • Are other cell phone OEM still considering sapphire?
  • Can traditional applications such as LED or watch windows sustain more than 100 manufacturers?
  • Could other applications emerge soon? If not how will consolidation affect the industry?
  • Will China eventually dominate the sapphire industry?

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