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Mar 27th, 2014
What differentiation strategy for Apple and Samsung?
From Yole Développement.
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Consumers, industry and Wall Street analysts tend to equally obsess over anything related to Apple. Countless blogs are dedicated to spreading or analyzing any rumor pertinent to the Cupertino consumer electronic trendsetter. So it's no surprise that an announcement last November that Apple was partnering with GTAT to set up a $1 billion sapphire plant in Mesa, Az sent bloggers and analysts alike into a frenzy. The application for what will likely be the largest sapphire plant in the world remains a tight secret at Apple. However, the latest Yole Developpement analysis on Sapphire (Sapphire Applications and Market: From LED to Consumer Electronics) points toward smartphone display covers being the likely outcome.

With Android, iOS and Microsoft OS, smartphones now all deliver similar experiences on the latest generations of multicore mobile processors. Remaining opportunities of differentiation are scarce and lay mostly in the display. After fighting on resolution and color performances, ruggedness might be the next front and sapphire could be the answer. Commenting in 2013 about trends in cell phone designs, Google CEO Larry Page insisted on durability, stating that “when you drop your phone, it shouldn’t shatter”.

"Looking at recent Samsung and LG announcement indicate that Korean smartphone makers might have adopted a differentiation strategy based on curved and flexible displays. Although this also impacts ruggedness (a displays that flexes won’t break), this leaves sapphire outside of the picture for now.
Sapphire still needs to prove itself. And while Apple might be initially willing to absorb the significant hike in bill of material, the ability of GTAT and downstream suppliers to deliver on what is surely an aggressive cost reduction roadmap will be key on securing the long term future of sapphire in mobile applications
," says Eric Virey, Senior Analyst at Yole Developpement. With current technologies, its cost is also prohibitive for larger displays like tablets or laptops. That is unless GTAT succeeds with Hyperion, a sapphire (and other materials) lamination technology it is developing based on IP and assets from startup Twin Creeks acquired in late 2012. But that’s another story…

Typical LCD display + touch sensor stack. Sapphire could replace strengthened glass for the top layer known as the display cover or cover lens
(Illustration p 284 of the
 Sapphire Applications and Market: From LED to Consumer Electronics report)

More information about the report here.

Eric Virey holds a Ph-D in Optoelectronics from the national Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble. In the last 12 years, he’s held various R&D, engineering, manufacturing and marketing positions with Saint-Gobain.
Most recently, he was Market Manager at Saint-Gobain Crystals, in charge of Sapphire and Optoelectronic products.



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