Clappin confirmed that Phire was on track for release later this year, but failed to provide any other details on the product.
“We told you last year that sapphire was great for scratch performance but didn’t fare well when dropped,” Clappin, president of Corning Glass Technologies, told the crowd at the event. “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.”
Corning currently produces Gorilla Glass, which is used by Apple and other device makers in their smartphone and tablet displays. Apple planned to move away from Gorilla Glass and attempted to develop a sapphire-based display material along with materials supplier GT Advanced.
This new sapphire display was expected to debut in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, but those plans never materialized due to production and quality control issues. The inability of GT Advanced to provide Apple with a suitable display material led to the the chapter 11 bankruptcy of the materials supplier and the severance of the partnership between the two companies.
Following speculation that Apple was exploring Sapphire as a display material, Corning began to promote the advantages of its Gorilla Glass. The glass maker compared its display material to sapphire in a variety of stress tests designed to showcase the lighter weight, shatter resistance and affordability of its product.
Though it has abandoned its sapphire display efforts, Apple continues to use the product as a protective cover for its Touch ID sensor and the rear camera lens on its iOS devices. As Apple moves away from the sapphire manufacturing business, the company is investing $2 billion in its Arizona sapphire plant and repurposing it as a global data center.