Future Applications of Sapphire

With high quality commercial sapphire now more widely available than ever before, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sapphire’s use.

Eventually, we’re going to see doors open for the adoption of what’s been called a “wonder material” in industries like medical equipment and implants, military sensor technologies and a wide array of consumer electronics. In some of these industries, sapphire has already started to make its debut.

Let’s take a look at the top three industries where new applications of sapphire will initially play out.

  • Medical

In the near future, you may carry sapphire inside of you.

Potential uses for sapphire in the medical field are significant. To give but one example, sapphire could be used for joint replacements since it is biocompatible and won’t wear down over time.

That’s great news for the thousands of patients who have to have additional hip replacements seven and a half years after their first one and endure more, often painful, recoveries and increased medical expenses.

Sapphire’s optical properties and durability also offer advantages for specific medical laser applications in dermatology, ophthalmology and dentistry. It’s already widely used in surgical systems for its laser transmission, high resistance to heat, and non-thrombogenic properties (meaning it doesn’t promote clotting). In addition, sapphire products are used for surgical tools, implants and dental braces.

  • Defense and Aerospace

Historically, sapphire has been limited to smaller applications, like LED chips and components for smartphones. Going forward, sapphire manufacturers will find ways to grow sapphire to fit applications with larger size requirements, including uses in defense and aerospace.

For instance, with advancements in military sensor technology, there is an increased demand for large, thick, optical windows that can withstand harsh environments and protect sensors—a perfect application for sapphire.

Through a contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory, Rubicon has developed an entirely new sapphire crystal growth platform capable of growing windows of optical quality sapphire as thick as 14 x 20 x 1.5 inches. This new growth platform will allow Rubicon to grow panels up to two inches thick, which is larger than other large-area growth technologies can generate.

  • Consumer Electronics

While phone manufacturers, like Vertu and Kyocera, already have sapphire faceplates, larger manufacturers could propel the material into the mainstream.

If consumers like sapphire smartphone screens, we’re going to quickly see other device manufacturers follow suit. For example, Apple recently announced the Apple Watch will come equipped with a sapphire Retina display. Second only to diamond in hardness, sapphire will likely enable Apple Watch wearers to drop their watch without damaging the device.

With increased demand for sapphire and improved and more affordable production, we are only grazing the surface of sapphire’s potential use and – one thing is for certain – sapphire will begin to play a much larger role in our day-to-day lives.

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