Sapphire beyond the smart watch

Some day in the not-so distant future, our way of interacting with the world around us will be vastly different. Technology that seems like science fiction today – such as glasses with heads-up displays and connected headbands – will be the norm for average people. Desktop computers will be technologically archaic and non-smartphones will simply no longer exist.

3D Display

But before we get too carried away, let’s rewind to the present.

The Apple Watch broke ground for the consumer wearable device segment this year after it was reported last week that over 4.2 million units have been shipped since April 2015. According to research firm Canalys, Apple has easily overtaken more established companies like Fitbit and Xiaomi in just three months.

But while the smartwatch market gradually gains momentum, the augmented reality and wearables industries overall still face many obstacles on the road to success, especially in the form of consumer devices.

Photonics Spectra recently noted three challenges these industries must overcome before wearables can achieve wider consumer interest and, ultimately, adoption.

1)      System cost

2)      Materials

3)      Practical use

With the development of a wearable device, comes the need for a screen material that can put up with the rigors posed by exposure to the environment. Specifically, these devices are generally in more vulnerable locations than a phone. Fortunately, sapphire is a solution that is becoming more obtainable due to new manufacturing techniques.

Although currently more expensive than glass, sapphire’s greater scratch resistance, strength and durability allows products to be thinner, which can be a plus in wearables considering consumers desire their devices to blend in as stylish fashion accessories.

In addition, sapphire manufacturers are continuing to innovate by developing new solutions for the next generation of wearables. One such solution, sapphire coated glass, will give companies the ability to develop screen covers that are not only strong, but can mold to curved devices. These coatings will be directly applied on top of glass and will provide similar durability as sapphire, at a lower cost.

Already prominently used on a variety of mobile and wearable devices, including the Apple Watch, sapphire will likely be used on the screens of many cutting edge gadgets. As production methods continue to improve, the futuristic applications for sapphire are limitless.

Sapphire Carves Out a Corner of the Smart Watch Market

With the much anticipated release of the Apple Watch, the smart watch industry – and with it the sapphire industry – are back in the national spotlight.

Photo Credit: Business Insider

Photo Credit: Business Insider

Smart watches such as the Apple Watch are not only shaking up the wearables industry, but tipping us over the edge into a wearables revolution, predicted to be as transformative as smartphones and tablets.  With each new release, sapphire continues to establish a clear role in the future of wearable technology.

So what has led sapphire to be the go-to screen choice for smart watches?

As the second hardest substance on Earth behind diamond, it is unsurprising so many smart watch manufacturers are going with sapphire for their high-end time pieces. Utilized by traditional luxury watchmakers for decades, a sapphire faceplate is hard, extremely rugged and scratch resistant – excellent qualities to have when a device is situated in a vulnerable position, such as your wrist.

In fact, in an effort to prove just how indestructible a sapphire display is, Apple fan site iPhonefixed recently made a video of a purported Apple Watch sapphire display enduring excessive abuse, including aggressive rubbing against a stone wall and a power drill. In the end, the Apple Watch display is shown 100 percent intact, surviving without a single scuff or scratch.

But Apple is not the first or only manufacturer to feature sapphire on its smart watches. At Mobile World Congress 2015, Huawei shook up the wearable world by announcing the Huawei Watch. Designed with a more classical look in mind than the Apple Watch, the smart watch’s stainless steel build and sapphire crystal face make it look and feel more like a traditional timepiece.

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.

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