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.