Why Is Apple Gobbling Up a Quarter of the World’s Sapphire Supply?

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The sapphire is used to cover the iPhone’s camera lens and fingerprint reader.

The story of Apple’s now-bankrupt sapphire venture in Arizona is full of drama: The Wall Street Journal’s Daisuke Wakabayashi reports at length (paywall) on some of the challenges and disappointments that Apple and its partner, GT Advanced Technologies, have dealt each other.

But there’s one particularly interesting stat that explains why Apple and GTAT even bothered in the first place. Apple is already consuming “one-fourth of the world’s supply of sapphire to cover the iPhone’s camera lens and fingerprint reader,” Wakabayashi writes.

That is impressively high—and about to get a whole lot higher. Sure, Apple could sell 200 million fingerprint-reading iPhones and iPads next year, but such readers are relatively small. Imagine the volumes when the company starts making watches with sapphire displays, and iPhones with sapphire screens.

No wonder Apple wants more. As Wakabayashi notes, the Arizona venture was to “produce 30 times as much sapphire as any other plant in the world.”

(Image via endermasali/Shutterstock.com)