Industry Watch – Sapphire at Mobile World Congress 2015

Although the theme of Mobile World Congress 2015 was expected to revolve around topics like 5G or USB type-C, many were undoubtedly surprised by the prominent presence of luxury items, the majority of which featured sapphire and, of course, LEDs.

Sapphire certainly made a strong name for itself in Barcelona, debuting on consumer electronics such as smartphones and the biggest hit of the show, The Huawei Watch.  These products along with conceptual security glasses proved that the real theme of MWC 2015 was luxury.

How a Chinese smartwatch became the surprise hit of Mobile World Congress – The Verge: During this year’s Mobile World Congress, Huawei unveiled its first smart watch, The Huawei Watch. Designed with a more classical look in mind, the smartwatch’s stainless steel build and sapphire crystal face make it feel like an actual timepiece. The Huawei Watch turned heads during the show and was noted as one of the more surprising stories to come out of this year’s MWC.

SmartWatch

AVG camera- confusing glasses fool facial recognition – CNET:  At MWC, security software developers AVG debuted their conceptual privacy glasses, designed to obscure the user’s face when a smartphone camera is pointed at it. Studded with infrared LEDs around the frame, the glasses beam IR light that is invisible to the human eye but has the ability to confuse filters employed by smartphone cameras. As a result, the camera cannot recognize the user’s face to tag the user, disguising one’s personal identity.

Smart Glasses

HTC One M9 First Look: A Focus on Fixes – The Wall Street Journal: The HTC One was deemed the “best Android Phone ever” at last year’s Mobile World Congress; however, it was later criticized for having a subpar “ultra pixel” camera that produced low-quality photos. The new HTC One M9 debuted this year with a 20-megapixel camera with an upgraded sensor and sapphire glass lens to resist scratches.

HTCOne M9

Even though Mobile World Congress has now come to an end, it is clear that the possibilities for applying sapphire and LEDs in consumer electronics are just beginning.

Sapphire Demystified

A look at Rubicon Technology's sapphire

A look at Rubicon Technology’s sapphire

There has been so much hype and misinformation about sapphire lately, particularly surrounding sapphire covers or faceplates for smartphones, that we thought we’d review some basic info about commercial sapphire.

  • “Sapphire glass”

There really isn’t any such thing as sapphire “glass.” Sapphire is not a kind of glass; it’s a very hard monocrystalline material. The proper way to reference the clear layer of stuff that may soon cover the screen of your smart phone is as a “sapphire cover” or “sapphire faceplate.” Glass is made of silica or sand, and sapphire is made from aluminum oxide. The two materials have very different physical properties. So, glass isn’t really the right descriptor.

  • Sapphire is unbreakable.

Well, no. That’s not really accurate. A thin piece of sapphire can shatter, similarly to glass or a piece of gorilla glass. Sapphire is the second hardest material on Earth (after the diamond). As such, a thin slice of sapphire will shatter. What is sapphire good at? Sapphire is scratch resistant. That’s one of the main reasons why smartphone vendors are interested in sapphire for applications in lenses and fingerprint scanners.

  • Sapphire is blue.
Sapphires come in a range of colors.

Sapphires come in a range of colors. The purest sapphires are clear.

Yes and No. Sapphire, also called corundum, comes in a range of colors. The purest form of sapphire is clear.  Sapphire is a crystal made from Aluminum Oxide (Al2O3). Natural sapphire forms over thousands of years in the earth, but comes in different colors due to impurities such as minerals or other conditions (like humidity or radiation). Rubies are made of aluminum oxide and are actually sapphires. They are red because the crystal contains impurities in the form of the mineral chromium, making the crystal red. Sapphire gemstones get their blue hue from iron and titanium. Yellow sapphires get their color from a combination of iron and radiation (interesting).  The commercial sapphire that’s now being used in consumer electronics is very pure, so it’s colorless.

  • Sapphire in LEDs and smart phones is from blue sapphire gemstones.

No. The sapphire that is used in LEDs and smartphones is grown in a commercial setting using one of few processes – the Verneuil Method, Kyropoulous Method, Heat Exchanger Method, Czochralski Method and Edge-Defined Film-Fed Growth Method. Each method has its differences, but they produce a single crystal of clear sapphire that is fabricated (cut and polished) into a sapphire substrate used in an LED or into a lens or faceplate for optical uses like smart phones.

 

LEDs, Sleep and SAD –Innovations in Light

Philips Wake Up Light

Philips Wake Up Light

In the past, most people just bought light bulbs without a thought. It was simply about light. There weren’t many extra considerations. Today’s lighting purchase might be made with intelligent applications and even therapeutic reasons in mind, such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Light can help prevent or lessen the symptoms of SAD. According to WebMD, as many as 3% of Americans can suffer from SAD in the winter. When people are exposed to less natural light they may develop depression and anxiety, oversleep, and even have difficulty concentrating. Some people who live in extreme areas that depend on artificial light during long winter months without sunlight can use artificial light derived from LED light bulbs for some SAD relief.

Until now, most SAD sufferers needed special light boxes for SAD-related light therapy. LEDs are a natural light therapy source. Light from almost all LEDs used for lighting, displays and even TVs tend to naturally skew towards the blue part of the spectrum. Blue light stimulates a photoreceptor in the eye that reduces the production of the hormone melatonin and helps people stay awake.

LED lighting companies have begun to leverage blue light for those with seasonal disorders and even sleep issues.

Philips tackled the issue of the lack of light during polar winter in a town in the Arctic, Longyearbyen, Svalbard, where they experience dark for four months straight. Longyearbyen is the northernmost town in the world with 2,000 inhabitants (outnumbered by 3,000 polar bears). For two months, 186 volunteers used the Philips Wake-up Light for a study.  Already proven to work in a number of independent clinical studies, the Philips Wake-up Light was used to help wake up the volunteers with gradually increasing LED light prior to the alarm.

After using the Philips Wake-up Light for six weeks during the polar winter, 87% of residents said that they wake up feeling more refreshed, alert and ready for the day. Philips reported that 98% of residents said they would continue to use the Philips Wake-up Light rather than their previous method of waking up.  You can see a video about the experiment here.

Philips also has designed Philips goLITE BLU to help stave off the winter blues. The goLITEBLU provides the right level of blue light to help regulate a body’s clock and improve mood and energy levels. It is more efficient than traditional white light boxes, producing more concentrated light in a considerably smaller form factor.

For those challenged to wake up without hitting the snooze button repeatedly, there’s the Philips HF3500/60 Wake-Up Light that leverages both music and light to wake you up.  Here’s a link to an entertaining review written by a snooze button addict from Gizmodo.

Lighting Science’s Awake and Alert LED lamp brings more blue light to help people stay awake, while the company’s Good Night light reduces the blue light to help people sleep. The company also has designed the Rhythm Downlight with an app that can keep a sleep schedule for shift workers, those in extra long nights in cold climates and even those in space. The app syncs up with a specially designed digital LED light bulb. When it’s time to begin waking, the bulb will emit more blue light to help you wake up. But when it’s time go to sleep, the percentage of blue light is reduced, turning on your melatonin so you can sleep.

For Further Reading

Discover Magazine, Smart Bulb Helps You Sleep and Wake on Schedule, http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2014/04/04/smart-bulb-helps-you-sleep-and-wake-on-schedule/#.U0K5m_l90xF

The New York Times, LEDs Change Thinking about the Light Bulb, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/06/technology/personaltech/leds-change-thinking-about-the-light-bulb.html?_r=0

Philips, Philips Wake Up the Town, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wotUrbYs0QI

Philips, Wake up the Town: Arctic Experiment Results, http://www.digitalnewsroom.philips.com/pressreleases/Wakeup_light_campaign/Philips_Wake_up_the_town_Final_results_report.pdf

Gizmodo, A Light-Up Alarm Completely Changed My Life, http://gizmodo.com/a-light-up-alarm-completely-changed-my-life-1535668863

The Business Standard, Lights are no longer just for lighting, http://www.business-standard.com/article/beyond-business/lights-are-no-longer-just-for-lighting-114031401155_1.html

Opportunities for Sapphire – A New Look at Smartphones, Tablets and Even Smartwatches

This week, we’ll take a look at smartphones, tablets and smartwatches and the market opportunity that these consumer devices present for sapphire. Sapphire can be used in a number of ways in them ranging from LEDs for the backlighting display and LEDs for the camera flash to sapphire material for use camera lens covers and home button covers. There’s even speculation that they could be used for front cover plates in smartphones.

Recently, smartwatches and “wearables” have become “fashionable” so we’ll take a look at sapphire in smartwatches too. The infographic in this post points to the number of ways that sapphire could be used in smartphones and tablets.

Opportunities for Sapphire: Smartphones and Tablets

Opportunities for Sapphire: Smartphones and Tablets

Let’s take a closer look at the market for smartphones and tablets.  Backlighting has been a very fertile area for LEDs. The market penetration of LEDs in backlighting displays for mobile phones, tablets, LED camera flash and keyboards is nearly 100 percent. But, let’s look at the numbers.

First, 2013 was a groundbreaking year for smartphones. According to market research firm Gartner, smartphone sales surpassed feature phone sales for the first time with smartphones accounting for 53.6% of overall mobile phone sales for the year.  Overall, Gartner says that 968 million smartphone device units out of a total of 1.8 billion mobiles were sold in 2013. Given that there’s an opportunity to sell sapphire for multiple uses in each smart phone, that’s quite a bit of sapphire. And, even feature phones present an opportunity for sapphire in backlighting, camera flashes and camera lens covers.

In tablets, the opportunity for sapphire is in the same applications, but with a twist. Backlighting is a good opportunity with even more display real estate that larger tablet screens represent.  Many tablets also feature a front facing camera and a back facing camera, doubling the opportunity for camera flashes and protective camera lens covers. According to Gartner, worldwide sales of tablets to end users reached 195.4 million units in 2013. Again, that’s a good opportunity for sapphire.

Wearables like smartwatches are an emerging market and a new opportunity for sapphire. As a traditional cover for watches, sapphire is a natural cover for smartwatches as vendors like Samsung, Omate and the Wellograph Wellness Watch already use sapphire covers in their smart watches. JP Morgan estimates that the smartwatch market size could reach US$26 billion by 2018. This is up from less than US $1 billion in 2013. Once again, that’s a good opportunity for sapphire.

For Further Reading

Tech Crunch, Gartner: Smartphone Sales Finally Beat Out Dumb Phone Sales Globally In 2013, With 968M Units Sold, http://techcrunch.com/2014/02/13/smartphones-outsell-dumb-phones-globally/

Gartner, Gartner Says Worldwide Tablet Sales Grew 68 Percent in 2013, With Android Capturing 62 Percent of the Market,  http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2674215

CNet, Wellograph’s sleek new Sapphire Wellness Watch sparkles with style at CES 2014 (hands-on)

http://reviews.cnet.com/watches-and-wrist-devices/sapphire-wellness-watch/4505-3512_7-35833913.html

The Smart Watch Review, Apple Might Have Big Plans for Sapphire and its iWatch, http://www.thesmartwatchreview.com/apple-might-have-big-plans-for-sapphire-and-its-iwatch/

JP Morgan, Smartwatch Market, https://markets.jpmorgan.com/research/email/-pefp7bj/GPS-1320515-0