Screens that are close to unscratchable, and expected to be key selling points of the iPhone 6 when Apple unveils the latest model next month, are to go into large-scale production this month.
To create industrial quantities of man-made sapphire, the material already used to cover the fingerprint-sensing home button and camera lens on its phones, Apple has a US$578 million deal with manufacturer GT Advanced Technologies, which has built a plant powered by renewable energy in Mesa, Arizona.
The iPhone 6 will make its first public appearance on September 9. Until now, Apple has relied on toughened glass, which can easily be shattered and marked. But screens already demonstrated by GT can withstand scratches from concrete. Its thin sapphire layers are flexible, potentially improving resistance to knocks and falls.
Apple is said to be preparing two new iPhone models, both with larger screens than their predecessors. The biggest is said to measure 13.75cm corner to corner, while the smaller iPhone will reportedly have a 11.75cm screen.
The Wall Street Journal claims Apple has ordered an initial batch of between 70 million and 80 million handsets, its biggest first-run production, to be sent out from factories in time for Christmas and new year.
GT chief executive Thomas Gutierrez told investors on a call this month: "The build-out of our Arizona facility, which has involved taking a 1.4 million square feet facility from a shell to a functional structure and the installation of over 1 million sqft of sapphire growth and fabrication equipment, is nearly complete and we are commencing the transition to volume production."