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Canonical CEO claims Apple cornered market on sapphire screens

updated 01:00 am EST, Thu February 20, 2014

Bought up 'entire three-year supply' of 4.5-inch super-tough material

Ubuntu developer Canonical has told investors and analysts in a conference call that part of the reason it had been unable to produce a planned 4.5-inch smartphone running the Linux-based OS was because (in addition to financial issues) Apple had "scooped up" the entire three-year supply" of sapphire screens the company had planned to use. While not a confirmation that Apple plans to create a 4.5-inch display in a future iPhone, the quote seems to reaffirm that Apple is planning to incorporate the practically-unscratchable material in its future products.

The now-abandoned Ubuntu Edge smartphone
The now-abandoned Ubuntu Edge smartphone

Apple is already known to have entered into a partnership with GT Technology, investing in a sapphire manufacturing plant. Apple already uses sapphire glass for both the glass covering the camera on the iPhone 5 units, as well as the iPhone 5s' Touch ID home button. The glass produced from the artificial process is said to be considerably tougher than even Corning's Gorilla Glass, and virtually scratchproof (vitally important for accurate fingerprint scanning and camera lenses).

Canonical wanted to use the existing sapphire glass supply for its own Ubuntu Edge, a planned smartphone that would run Ubuntu and use a 4.5-inch display (of note, the planned display Canonical wanted to use was not to the 16:9 proportions Apple uses for the iPhone 5 family). The company launched an IndieGoGo appeal to raise funds for the project, but fell short of the $32 million required.

It is unclear if Apple bought up sapphire glass supplies before it had come to an agreement with GT Technology, or needs the existing sapphire glass supply for a particular product -- and plans to use the 100 million to 200 million displays the forthcoming factory will produce for a different product. Rumors have swirled that the next iPhone will move to a larger, 4.7-inch (or possibly larger) display, and may possibly also be buying 5.7-inch sapphire glass screens for another product said not to use the "iPhone" name. The actual size of the next iPhone is at present unknown, though recent alleged "case leaks" seen on many sites have now been discredited.

by MacNN Staff



  1. Zanziboy

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 08-27-08

    Canonical needs to learn to lie better. This is a lame excuse not to build a smartphone. Clearly, Canonical could have simply have placed an order to Corning like most smartphone companies. I imagine there were more practical reasons to throw in the towel that would not have received press attention.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    As the article says, the lack of sapphire glass is NOT the reason they didn't produce the phone, it's because they fell about $20M short of their funding goal. That said, HAD they produced the phone, they WANTED to use sapphire glass (as its a major selling point, what with being scratchproof).

  1. Jeronimo2000

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 08-20-01

    Even IF the sapphire screen supply had anything to do with it, all he'd be saying is "Apple knows how to do business better than us". If you can't get your slice of the cake - well, that's tough.

  1. Ppietra

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 01-12-05

    Lame excuse! Apple bought the supply from one company not all of them...

  1. iphonerulez

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 11-28-08

    I'm sure Apple corners the market on a lot of various components because they usually plan far in advance in selling a particular product in quantity where no other company, except Samsung, even comes close. It's always nice to have a big, fat amount of reserve cash up front. I've seen so many articles on this sapphire stuff, some saying it's going to be used for the large displays and others saying it's only going to be used on the mythical iWatch. Probably no one outside of Apple knows anything about Apple's plans.

  1. avgeek75

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 02-20-14

    The picture included with the article is not of the Ubuntu Edge. That is the Google Nexus phone that Canonical supports side-loading Ubuntu Touch onto.

  1. noibs

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 07-09-07

    Uhhh...this is business we're talking about. If Ubuntu wants to play with the big boys (and girls), it needs to put on its big boy pants, shut up, and compete.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    avgeek: thanks for pointing that out, I'll find an image of the Ubuntu Edge and swap it out.

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