Corning, the company behind the Gorilla Glass used on Apple and Samsung phones, has announced "Project Phire," a new material that is sturdy and scratch-resistant.
The new material was announced on Friday at an investor meeting in New York, with executive James Clappin saying that the company plans on selling the material later this year.
"We told you last year that sapphire was great for scratch performance but didn't fare well when dropped," said Clappin, president of Corning Glass Technologies. "So, we created a product that offers the same superior damage resistance and drop performance of Gorilla Glass 4 with scratch resistance that approaches sapphire."
While Corning does make most of its money from making glass for TV displays and fiber optic cables, Gorilla Glass has been an area of big growth for the company. In fact, Gorilla Glass has fast become the most-used material for mobile device displays, including the likes of the iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4.
The company was put under pressure last year, however, when it was rumored that Apple would be using sapphire displays made by GT Advanced Technologies. GT Advanced, however, soon filed for bankruptcy protection, severing ties with Apple in a very public dispute.
For Corning, this meant that it was time to step up the glass that it makes for smartphone displays. While the glass was pretty strong, it certainly wasn't scratch resistant, leading to the new material, which is both strong and scratch resistant.
The new glass could be used in much more than simply smartphones, however. The growing wearable market is likely to be a market of growth for Corning as well, with its glass potentially being usable on smart watches, especially as it is scratch resistant.
Sapphire has largely been avoided for displays in the past because of the fact that it is brittle and breaks easily, despite being very resistant to scratches.
"As with any high-tech material, sapphire crystal has its own unique set of problems," said Hutch Hutchinson, a Vertu executive, in an interview last year. Vertu makes luxury mobile phones. "It is slow, expensive and energy intensive to produce. It can take two weeks to grow each boules and the yield from each is low. It is also very difficult to cut, grind and polish; diamond tools have to be used for all of these processes."
This new composite material is aimed at avoiding scratches and not shattering when the device meets the ground. It is likely that this material will end up on the iPhone 7 and next generation of Samsung smartphones.