SUNNYVALE, CALIF — Even though the latest iPhones are made from glass front and back, they would be “nearly unbreakable” if just a bit thicker.
That was the message from glass manufacturer Corning during an open house at its Silicon Valley research center on Tuesday.
“If the glass on the latest smartphones was just a little bit thicker, it would be nearly unbreakable,” said Dave Young, a Corning marketing communications specialist, at the event.
Of course, as far as Apple is concerned, making the iPhone thicker is unlikely. Ever since the debut of the first iPhone in 2007, which famously featured Corning’s Gorilla Glass, Apple has relentlessly shrunk the device. Apple has been (mostly) making iPhones thinner and thinner every year, with the latest iPhone XS just 7.7 mm thick. Compare to the original iPhone, which measured 11.7mm thick.
In one demo, Corning had journalists try to smash little squares of glass with a metal tool. Ordinary glass broke easily, while strengthened glass proved a little more durable. But a 1mm thick piece of Corning’s Gorilla Glass 6, the latest formulation, survived everything the journalists threw at it without leaving a scratch.
Young then demonstrated the same three types of glass in a standard drop test, which simulated a drop from about a meter. Again, the ordinary glass broke instantly, but the Gorilla Glass 6 survived drop after drop from 2 meters or more, which Young said would likely damage a phone’s internal components before it broke the glass.
Young noted that the Gorilla Glass in the earliest iPhones was about 1mm thick. But in the latest phones, the glass is usually between .45 and .55mm thick.
The latest phones present special challenges because they are so thin and more flexible, Young said. If the glass were just 0.5mm thicker front and back — which would add 1mm to the overall thickness of the phone — it would be near unbreakable.
Gorilla Glass has been used in 6 billion devices worldwide to date, Corning claims. Gorilla Glass was used in the first iPhone, and likely every generation since, though neither Corning nor Apple will say definitively.
Young wouldn’t be drawn on whether the latest iPhones use Gorilla Glass 6 or not. “We are on the list of Apple’s approved suppliers,” is all he would say.
Glass that looks like wood
As well as super-tough glass, Corning is also working on glass that looks like snakeskin, wood, marble, carbon fiber and several other finishes.
The company showed samples of faux wood, which looks and feels just like wood but has the desirable properties of glass: it can be made very thin; it is scratch-resistant and durable; it’s waterproof; and it won’t rot or set on fire.
Corning is hoping to get the interest of electronic gadget designers. When most phones look like alike — a featureless slab of glass — Corning is hoping that distinctive finishes will catch the eyes of companies hoping to distinguish their gadgets and make then look different from the competition.
The company has also figured out how to inkjet print onto glass. Corning has developed special inks that adheres to glass. Using a standard inkjet printer, all kinds of patterns and effects can be printed onto Gorilla Glass, including the ability to print custom pictures quickly and easily. “Imagine having a picture of your boyfriend or girlfriend on the back of your phone,” said Matt Fenton, a glass scientist with Corning.
Corning showed showed laptops with colorful Gorilla Glass lids, and tablets with glass backs.
It touted the advantages of using glass for electronic devices, namely, that it is invisible to radio waves like WiFi and Bluetooth.
Fenton wouldn’t be drawn on whether Apple is interested in releasing a faux-wood iphone, saying only that Corning has had “lots of interest from designers.”
He apologized for the ugliness of the prototype designs. “We’re not designers,” he said. “We’re scientists trying to be designers.”
This article was originally posted here