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Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) next iPhone could be a blockbuster. The addition of new features, deal with China Mobile, and a bigger screen will make the iPhone 6 Apple's best phone, and this fact will ultimately be reflected in Apple's sales numbers going forward. The success of the iPhone 6 will not only benefit Apple, but will send ripples through the shares of all iPhone suppliers. However, the company that is in the spotlight is GT Advanced Technologies (NASDAQOTH: GTATQ  ) , which is ironic since it is not an Apple supplier, yet.

A strategic deal
In November 2013, GT Advanced Technologies signed a $578 million deal with Apple, under which it was asked to install and operate the world's largest sapphire-crystal manufacturing plant. Ever since this deal was announced, GT Advanced Technologies has witnessed a run up of over 125% in its stock price.

Apple has not promised to buy any of the GT Advanced Technologies-produced sapphire crystals, and a failure to land a spot in the iPhone 6 can send the share price crashing down. However, GT Advanced Technologies investors shouldn't be worried as the company's long-term prospects look bright.

Although Apple hasn't confirmed that it will be using sapphire in its upcoming iPhone, many reputed sources are confident that it will happen. Both Forbes and Canaccord are speculating that the iPhone 6 will indeed come with a sapphire display.

The switch to sapphire is looking certain as Apple recently filed a patent application regarding oleophobic coating on sapphire. In simpler terms, oleophobic means oil repellent and the patent filing explains in depth how Apple plans to coat the sapphire display so as to reduce smudges on a sapphire screen. Oil affinity is one of sapphire displays' three big shortcomings, the other two being heavier weight and higher price than glass displays. However, it seems like Apple has overcome these limitations through innovation.

Based on one of Apple's 2013 patent filings, it seems that the Cupertino-based giant has tackled the price and weight problem by a technique which entails fusing a thin sapphire laminate sheet with cover glass. The infusion of glass will automatically bring down the cost and weight of sapphire displays and may even increase its shattering threshold.

Moving on, the event which further confirms the use of sapphire in the iPhone 6 is the blistering attack on the potential of sapphire display by Tony Tripeny, Corning's (NYSE: GLW  ) senior VP. Here's what Tripeny said:

We see a lot of disadvantages of Sapphire versus Gorilla Glass. It's about 10 times more expensive. It's about 1.6 times heavier. It's environmentally unfriendly. It takes about 100 times more energy to generate a Sapphire crystal than it does glass. It transmits less light which...means either dimmer devices or shorter battery life. It continues to break. I think while it's a scratch resistant product it still breaks and our testing says that Gorilla Glass [can take] about 2.5 times more pressure that it can take...Sapphire on. So when we look at it, we think from an overall industry and trend that is not attractive in consumer electronics.

However, Tripney's argument looks hazy. Tripney launched an all out attack on the properties of sapphire, but Apple will be using sapphire fused with glass, which refute many of Tripney's statements. In addition, sapphire display costs are coming down. Sapphire screen used to cost $30 per smartphone, but GT Advanced Technologies recently claimed that the cost has come down to $12 a piece and may further fall to $10 with technological advancements. Moreover, due to Apple's economy of scale, sapphire displays will not be as expensive as Tripney claims.

Thus, GT Advanced looks all set to profit from Apple's upcoming iPhone. The company has brought down the cost of sapphire displays and there's potential for further decreases. Moreover, Apple is now thinking of expanding its sapphire production facility to increase yields. This increases the chances of GT landing a spot in the next iPhone stronger and could push the company's shares to new highs once the news comes true.

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  • Report this Comment On June 22, 2014, at 9:25 PM, ronfab1 wrote:

    I saw this below posted on another site's article. If GTAT's % is only that, does it mean there are other companies also supplying sapphire to Apple? If so are they as good as GT Advanced Technologies? (question also asked on the "Boards" section of posts)

    "US$578 million can be used to procure 1,930-2,890 sapphire growing furnaces for a monthly production of 5.28-7.90 million mm of 2-inch-equivalent sapphire ingots, Digitimes Research indicated. Such a volume of sapphire ingots could be used to make screen covers for 33.79-50.56 million 5-inch iPhones a year, accounting for 17.8-26.6% of the estimated 190 million iPhones to be shipped in 2014."

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