Sapphire industry: What we could expect after Apple’s withdrawal last September

The announcement by GTAT and Apple in late 2013 of a more than $1 billion combined investment to set up the largest sapphire crystal growth facility in the world had raised hopes that adoption of sapphire in smartphones would rapidly reach a massive scale, with Apple setting up the pace and forcing its competitor to follow suit. Various second tier cell phone OEM upped their efforts in sapphire-related developments and tried to beat Apple by announcing or introducing smartphone models with sapphire display covers ahead of the highly anticipated iPhone 6 announcement. This prompted various sapphire manufacturers in China to announce plans for significant capacity increases to serve this new market.

“After a 2014 year full of hopes, the sapphire industry is entering 2015 with a lots of uncertainties,” analyzes Dr Eric Virey, Senior, Technology & Market Analyst, Yole Développement (Yole). “Following a long period of depressed pricings and stagnating revenue, 2014 started with a welcome price recovery that lifted up the spirit of many industry players. But most of all, it was the prospect of a new killer application that had given reasons for optimism,” he adds.

But the news that the iPhone 6 would not use a sapphire display cover, shortly followed by GTAT bankruptcy sent shockwaves in the industry and raised many questions:

  • Is Apple still interested in sapphire and will the display cover glass opportunity ever materialize in a large scale?
  • Is the technology ready?
  • What will happen to the more than 2000 high capacity furnaces installed by GTAT and Apple?
  • Are other cell phone OEM still considering sapphire?
  • Can traditional applications such as LED or watch windows sustain more than 100 manufacturers?
  • Could other applications emerge soon? If not how will consolidation affect the industry?
  • Will China eventually dominate the sapphire industry?

GTAT and Apple

Yole analysts have been tracking the sapphire market for more than a decade. Their analysis is presented in the yearly technology & market analysis: Sapphire Applications & Market: from LED to Consumer Electronic and Sapphire Applications, Touch screens, displays, semiconductor, defense and consumer.

“The last 6 month events are shaking the sapphire industry,” comments Eric Virey from Yole. He adds: “Today, several points remain under questions: is the display cover application dead on arrival? What is Apple’s strategy regarding sapphire? Can the market absorb the more than 2000 high capacity GTAT furnaces now for sale.”

Under this context, Yole, the “More Than Moore” market research, technology and strategy consulting company, proposes to exchange and debate during the 1st International Forum on Sapphire Market & Technologies, on September 3rd, 2015. This Forum is hosted by CIOE. It will take place in Shenzhen, alongside the 17th China International Optoelectronic Expo 2015.

Both partners have set up a high added-value program including sessions on: sapphire market, technologies and supply chain – established and emerging sapphire applications - crystal growth - manufacturing technologies… The forum will wrap up with a round table with leading industry players and experts to discuss the future of sapphire technologies and markets.

“This 1st International Forum on Sapphire Market & Technologies is a must for all sapphire industry managers as well as for sapphire users in order to network and learn about all the latest industry trends,” comments Eric Virey.

The Yole & CIOE sapphire forum will bring together a world class panel of experts. It will allow participants to get valuable insights into the status and future of the sapphire industry. Moreover, the Forum will provide unprecedented opportunities for meetings with industry leaders.

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