Corning, the supplier of the Gorilla Glass display that is used by Apple and Samsung in their flagship smartphones, revealed that it is working on a new kind of material that features a combination of the toughness of the Gorilla Glass and the resistance to scratches of sapphire.
Corning is looking to begin selling the new material, currently named Project Phire, within the year.
The announcement of Project Phire was made by James Clappin, the president of Corning Glass Technologies, at an investor meeting in New York held last Feb. 6.
"We told you last year that sapphire was great for scratch performance but didn't fare well when dropped," Clappin said, adding that the new material will look to remedy the aforementioned flaw of sapphire by combining it with the superior resistance to damage of the Gorilla Glass 4.
Corning's business relies on its profits from selling glass used for TV screens and fiber-optics, but Gorilla Glass remains as an important area of growth for the company. The material has claimed dominance as the premier supplier of hardened glass to be used in mobile devices, with Gorilla Glass now used in about 3 billion devices. Included in Corning's customers for Gorilla Glass are Apple, for the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and Samsung, for the Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edge.
Gorilla Glass, however, felt pressure last year when Apple revealed plans of switching from using the material to synthetic sapphire for the screens of its devices. However, even after Apple poured investments worth hundreds of millions of dollars into GT Advanced Technologies, the sapphire maker went bankrupt and severed ties with Apple.
The struggle to develop sapphire screens has been a blessing for Corning because of the major weakness of Gorilla Glass. While the material does not break when the device is dropped, it is prone to getting scratched. This is why the company decided to develop a new material which will combine the strengths of Gorilla Glass and sapphire screens.
Corning has repeatedly said that sapphire screens are a poor choice for mobile devices because of the ease with which they shatter when the device is dropped. However, it seems that the company has changed its mind on the importance of scratch resistance with the development of Project Phire.
Project Phire may also allow Corning to better penetrate the smartwatch market, as several smartwatches such as the Motorola Moto 360 already use Gorilla Glass. Some versions of the Apple Watch, on the other hand, use sapphire screens, as the material has long been used for luxury watches for its resistance to scratches and high-end quality.