When Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) unveiled its new 4.7-inch Galaxy Alpha smartphone in August, it was touted as a premium-style device given its metal frame, soft material back, and incredibly slim profile (just 6.7 millimeters thick).
By comparison, a few weeks later Apple (AAPL 0.83%) proudly declared the new 4.7-inch iPhone 6 its slimmest iPhone to date -- at 6.9 mm. Of course, thickness isn't the only thing that makes a great smartphone. But as today's electronics grow ever slimmer, the ability to shave even fractions of a millimeter is often the result of enormous feats of engineering.
Enter Gorilla Glass 4
Samsung owes at least part of the Galaxy Alpha's technical edge to the brilliant glass makers at Corning (GLW 0.58%). In a press release earlier this week, Corning announced that Samsung has chosen its 0.4-mm-thick Gorilla Glass 4 as the discrete touch cover glass in the Galaxy Alpha.
You might remember Corning only officially announced Gorilla Glass 4 on Nov. 20, boasting at the time the latest version of its innovative cover glass "redefines the standard in damage resistance." The company said Gorilla Glass 4 resists sharp contact with rough surfaces -- which accounted for more than 70% of broken screens in its field tests -- up to twice as well as competitive glasses.
What's more, Corning provided this interesting comparison of "check depth" using the same abrasion pressure, showing just how much more effective Gorilla Glass 4 is at resisting damage than even its durable Gorilla Glass 3:
As a result, Corning was able to reduce the minimum thickness of Gorilla Glass 4 by 27% from its predecessor to 0.4 mm, while still offering superior damage resistance to even the thickest 0.7-mm variant of Gorilla Glass 3.
Then again, I suppose Gorilla Glass 4's inclusion in the Samsung Galaxy Alpha should not be a complete shock.
First, shortly after Samsung released the Galaxy Alpha, the teardown specialists at iFixIt expressed admiration at the super-slim design of its front panel at a total of 1.4 mm. Specifically, they wrote, "The Galaxy Alpha features a razor-thin display assembly -- less than half the width of the iPhone 6 front panel."
Next, when Corning announced third-quarter results in October, management teased the promise of Gorilla Glass 4 by saying "[O]ur customers are already integrating this glass into their new products." Then, in early November, Corning not only revealed plans to expand its research and development presence in Samsung's home country of South Korea by building the new Corning Technology Center in Asan, but also confirmed reports it would invest more than $800 million to increase Gorilla Glass production volume there by at least fivefold by 2018.
In fact, in retrospect it would seem amazing if Corning's newest glass hadn't already found its way into at least one Samsung product by now. But if one thing is clear given those plans -- and perhaps most encouraging for Corning shareholders in the end -- it's that the Samsung Galaxy Alpha will be only the first of many devices to feature Gorilla Glass 4.