Time is reporting that, in contrast to the many rumors (and GTAT investor claims), Apple had never planned to use sapphire displays for the iPhone 6, and the company may not use it for future iPhones.

Some reports stated that up until a few weeks before the iPhone announcement, Apple was going to use sapphire but dropped it because of yield issues. This is not true. My sources tell me that sapphire was never targeted for the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus and its role in future iPhones hasn’t even been decided yet.

Speculation about sapphire displays for the iPhone 6 began when Apple built a major new manufacturing facility in Arizona last November. But Time‘s Tim Bajarin says that while the scratch-resistance of the material may have made it sound superficially appealing, there were no fewer than five reasons it would not have made sense to use the material for the iPhone 6 display …

The first is that the strength of sapphire has been largely misunderstood. Yes, it’s very resistant to scratches, but it’s actually more vulnerable than Gorilla Glass to being smashed when dropped – and even the invisible scratches a phone can get when carried in pockets can lead to failure.

When you drop it, it is more likely than glass to break. Glass actually flexes and can absorb the shock of a drop more successfully than sapphire […]

Those small cracks add up like the normal wear and tear we put our phones through every day – knocking around in our purses and pockets with keys and change, or scuffing against the surface of a counter repeatedly […]

Once sapphire is exposed to a scratch or a flaw, visible or invisible, its risk of breakage and eventual failure is high.

Sapphire is also denser than glass, making it heavier, and bulkier – neither good things when your aim is to make a phone as thin and light as possible.

Battery life, surprisingly, was also a key consideration. Sapphire transmits less light than glass, requiring more powerful backlighting to deliver the same display brightness.

The all-in cost of using a sapphire display is also much higher than some had estimated. The material cost is around ten times that of Gorilla Glass, and it’s claimed associated costs could add as much as $100 to the cost of an iPhone.

Finally, for a company which prides itself on its environmental credentials, Apple may have felt some discomfort over the amount of energy required to manufacture sapphire: more than 100 times that of the same quantity of glass.

Most of these arguments would also apply to the use of sapphire in the Apple Watch, but the much smaller surface area means that cost is less of a factor – and scratch-resistance is more important than protection against drops in a device that spends most of the day securely attached to your wrist.

It does, however, lend weight to suggestions that perhaps only the more expensive models will have sapphire displays. We already know from Apple’s website that the $349 entry-level Apple Watch Sport will have a glass display, but we don’t yet know at what price-point sapphire may kick in.

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About the Author

Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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