Despite Apple’s plans of launching the iPhone 6 in late 2014, optical demands in handheld devices failed to generate price upticks in the sapphire substrate industry, according to LEDinside, a research subdivision of market-research organization TrendForce.
Sapphire ingot, substrate and patterned sapphire substrate (PSS) prices have all dropped in July 2014, with some product prices down 5%-10% Quarter-on-Quarter (QoQ). The research organization noted optical demands lagged behind sapphire manufacturers’ production expansion, and order volumes have fallen short of expectations. In the sapphire ingot industry, 2-inch ingot prices were declined to US $3.5-$4.0, while 2-inch sapphire substrate prices were maintained at US $6.8-$7.2. Four-inch sapphire ingot prices also dropped to US $15-$16, while 4-inch sapphire substrate prices were about US $29-US $31. LEDinside, however, upheld a positive outlook for the sapphire industry performance in second half of 2014, pointing out a new wave of sapphire substrate orders could emerge if the iPhone 6 sales performance were good.
The sapphire material is still being applied in new generation Apple smartphones camera lenses and fingerprint recognition readers. If the iPhone 6 keeps up Apple’s previous smartphone models hot selling records, sapphire demands will be driven by the smartphone’s applications till the end of this year. However, the much anticipated sapphire cover glass remains missing from the picture. Analysis of the iPhone 6 supply chain indicates related component suppliers need to ship products to OEMs for assembly in June 2014 to meet the September launch date. Yet, the research institute did not discover demands for smartphone cover glass. The sapphire glass version iPhone 6 will be issued in limited volumes this year, mostly because sapphire ingot manufacturers yield rates were lower than forecasts and issues involved in sapphire glass processing.
Meanwhile, further observations will be required to determine whether Apple’s final iWatch will incorporate sapphire glass cover, said a LEDinside analyst, who declined to be identified. Since sapphire glass processing is relatively difficult, it would be problematic to mass produce sapphire watch cover glass if the iWatch is 2.5 D. Additionally, sapphire glass processing will become even more strenuous if the wearable device uses flexible OLED panels.