As you’re well probably well aware, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were repeatedly rumored to sport a sapphire display which never eventuated. We even saw leaks of the entire front panel emerge, which never materialized on the final device.
GT Advanced, the company chosen by Apple to grow sapphire and create the front of the iPhone 6, filed for bankruptcy protection in October after the sapphire display was left out of the new iPhone. Even more suspiciously, executives offloaded millions of dollars in GT stock the day before Apple’s unveiling.
In a report by The Wall Street Journal today, a number of revelations have finally come to light about what really went down in Apple’s Arizona facility where sapphire were to be produced.
Apple has worked incredibly hard to try and keep details of what really went down between itself and GT Advanced secret, to the point of asking the court to keep GT’s bankruptcy proceedings sealed.
The WSJ’s report gives us an incredible story of Apple’s relentless push to keep costs down, combined with a supplier who utterly failed to deliver on almost every single promise it made.
Sapphire glass, which is the second most durable material after diamonds, is grown in “boules” which take approximately thirty days to reach usable levels.
Even before the deal was first signed — just a matter of days before it was officially agreed upon — GT created a “578-pound cylinder of sapphire [that was] cracked so badly that none of the sapphire was usable.” Despite the obvious warning sign, GT assured Apple it would improve and the deal was done.
What ensued is months of failures, particularly from GT. The company hired hundreds of workers — many of whom were not even sure who their boss was — who ended up sweeping floors for weeks, as there was nothing to do.
Even when production began, it was riddled with mistakes. Only half of the sapphire boules created by GT were usable (resulting in the creation of a ‘boule graveyard’), staff accidentally sent 500 sapphire bricks to recycling instead of shipping (which was saved at the last minute), changes in furnace designs at the last minute and more.
Without the iPhone even using sapphire in the display, Apple still consumes over a quarter of the world’s supply every year from its use of the material in the camera lens and fingerprint sensor.
Not only did Apple bankroll GT with over $578 million in advance funds, it purchased the factory and boules required for the construction.
Apple did have its own part in the failures, however, citing the lack of an uninterruptible power supply and constant construction for the loss of large amounts of sapphire boules. It also held almost impossible terms over GT, such as an exclusivity agreement with the company that said Apple did not have to buy the sapphire from GT but it could not sell it to any other companies in any circumstance.
Despite GT’s claims, with the limited information that we have available to us, it appears that the company promised something that was not only impossible to deliver in just twelve months, but it was not equipped to handle at all. GT’s shifty behavior from executives and inability to even deliver the initial batch further highlights this.
We might yet see a sapphire screen in a future iPhone, as Apple looks to repurpose the Arizona factory — I certainly hope so — but it appears the entire situation was mismanaged from both sides, with neither company able or willing to take control when it came down to it.
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