iPhone 6: Apple 'ditches sapphire glass launch plan'
Super-strong sapphire glass screens for iPhone 6 proved to tough to build in time for October launch
The iPhone 6 will not feature a sapphire crystal display after all, according to analysts who say they can find no sign of the material in Apple's supply chain.
Persistent leaks and rumours have suggested that the screen of the iPhone 6 will be coated with the super-strong man-made glass, which is second only to diamond in hardness.
Apple is expected to unveil the new handset in mid-September, and new reports today suggest that a 4.7-inch model will go on sale a month later. MacRumors quotes an anonymous source who said that Apple has told its retail store managers to expect an "immense" day on 14 October.
There is no word on when the larger, 5.5-inch iPhone 6 may be released. Recent reports have suggested that it may not appear until next year after problems encountered with manufacturing components slim enough to meet Apple's specification.
Unlike many Apple rumours, including those relating to the launch date, reports that the iPhone 6 would be fitted with a sapphire crystal screen seemed to be grounded in solid, on-on-the-record detail. The company is known to have invested millions of dollars in a company that manufactures the material.
But now analysts say that Apple has been forced into a rethink.
"Disappointingly low yield rates of sapphire glass mean that while the material may be used for the display of later versions of the handset, the launch model will use another reinforced form of glass," reports the Daily Telegraph.
It will still be used in smaller iPhone 6 components, such as the camera lens and fingerprint scanner – which are already fashioned from sapphire crystal.
The report is based on research by TrendForce LEDInside, which says that Apple was struggling to produce enough sapphire crystal to keep pace with expected demand. "Analysts say the new smartphone won't come with the new screen glass because they can't make it quick enough to meet deadlines," reports the Daily Mirror.
A video released earlier this month (see below) showed what many believed to be a sapphire crystal display from an iPhone 6 emerging unscathed from a battery of bending, scratching and stabbing with knives.
But the Telegraph quotes one expert who suggests that the very quality which made sapphire crystal Apple's first choice – its hardness – also contributed to the production problems that have supposedly ruled it out.
As well as being slow and expensive to grow, "it is also very difficult to cut, grind and polish", says Hutch Hutchison, head of design at phone-maker Vertu, which uses the material in its high-end handsets. "Diamond tools have to be used for all of these processes."
More iPhone 6 rumours
There's no shortage of speculation about what will be included in the next iPhone, much of which seems to be based on wishful thinking:
Launch date: opinion is settling on Friday, 19 September, as the most likely date for the grand unveiling of the iPhone 6. Apple usually unveils products on Fridays, and it picked the equivalent Friday last year to present the iPhone 5S and 5C. Earlier this year Deutsche Telecom was caught telling customers that they could upgrade to the new handset on 19 September, although it's not clear whether this was insider knowledge or an educated guess. A Chinese advert apparently leaked over the weekend also points to a 19 September debut.
On-sale date: Tentative reports suggest that the iPhone 6 will go on sale in mid-October. According to MacRumors, Apple Store managers have been told to prepare for an "immense" day on October 14.
13-megapixel camera: There has been comparatively little speculation about the iPhone 6 camera, but tentative reports out today suggest that Apple may build in a 13-megapixels sensor capable of recording high-resolution 4K video. "Apple is well-known for investing millions into its camera sensor, though the company has always refrained from entering the megapixel count race because adding more megapixels tend to have an negative effect on the low-light performance," Tech Times says. But the website sounds a note of caution: "The original source comes from a Chinese web forum, which may not be the best place to find legitimate iPhone 6 leaked information."
Optical image stabilisation: MacRumors says the bigger of the two iPhone 6 models "may include camera improvements in the form of optical image stabilisation with modules produced by sensor company InvenSense". Camera performance is becoming increasingly important at the top end of the smartphone market, and analysts suggest that optical stabilisation, which reduces image blur, could help to justify a larger price tag for the 5.5-inch iPhone 6.
A Liquidmetal shell: As Apple strives to make the new handset as slim and strong as possible, some commentators have speculated that it may turn to Liquidmetal, an alloy that's stronger than aluminium. In theory that would mean the handset could be lighter and slimmer without skimping on strength or build quality, but in practice it seems unlikely. Although one of the inventors of Liquidmetal predicted two years ago that Liquidmetal cases would be possible by mid-2014, its use has so far been limited to small components.
Liquidmetal components: This is much more likely. Documents published by Apple-watching website MacRumors, suggest that the alloy could be used in buttons and switches in order to toughen up what have often proved to be weak points on previous iPhones.
A curved screen: At the end of last year Bloomberg carried a report predicting the next iPhone models would have screens that curved down at the edges. Curved screens are said to be more durable, more comfortable to use, and better suited to watching videos and playing games, according to Sky News. This would be a bold move for Apple, which usually likes to stand back and see how other phone-makers fare with new, risky technologies – and more recently a source told The Wall Street Journal that Apple has no plans to make use of curved glass. However, despite all the leaked images apparently showing the iPhone 6 with a flat screen, rumours of curved glass have resurfaced, most recently in the Daily Mirror.
Quantum dots: This is probably a technology for future handsets, not the iPhone 6. Patent filings suggest Apple is experimenting with tiny crystal semiconductors just a few thousandths of a millimetre across, which could improve the colour and sharpness of mobile screens. "The techniques Apple describes would let its screens not only show colours more accurately," Business Insider says, "but also show a wider gamut of colours." The publication had predicted in March that the quantum-dot screen may be ready this year, but no further reports of the technology have emerged.
Battery life: Mixed signals have emerged about the iPhone 6 battery life. On the positive side, analysts have pointed to iOS 8, Apple's new operating system, and its new A8 processor as evidence that the company is paying more attention to power consumption. The chip, says 9to5Mac.com "adds significant performance and efficiency enhancements in order to improve the iPhone’s battery life". On the other hand, more recent reports suggest that the slim frame of the new phone has forced Apple to adopt a battery that is just 2mm thick. Taiwanese sources suggest that the new battery has a "similar capacity" to its predecessor, which may dash hopes of significantly improved performance.
Eye-tracking: Some rumours suggested that the iPhone 5S would be eye-controlled, allowing users to scroll through pages without touching the device. When the technology failed to materialise in the last model, hopeful observers shifted their attention to the iPhone 6.
NFC: Another long-predicted feature, Near Field Communication or NFC would allow the phone to act as a payment system. Users would wave their handsets over a receiver to transfer money in shops and restaurants, or between friends. Several Android and Windows Phone devices already support NFC payments, but Apple has yet to make the leap.
Health monitors and apps: Apple has already unveiled its new operating system, iOS 8, and what we've seen so far suggests that Apple is turning its attention to health and fitness. Smartphone accessories such as the Fitbit and FuelBand have proven the demand for health-monitoring devices, and reports suggest that the iPhone 6 will be able to keep track of its owners pulse and body temperature, as well as other metrics. These features may work in conjunction with the long-awaited Apple iWatch.
More on the iPhone 6