March 26, 2012
by Mark Ollig
For a long time no one knew for sure what type of glass was used on the very first iPhone.
It was recently confirmed, via Steve Jobs biography, that he was, shall we say, “not happy” with the preliminary plastic display screen which was to be used on the first iPhone.
While the first iPhone was being tested in 2006, Apple CEO Steve Jobs discovered its plastic display screen was highly vulnerable to surface scratches.
Jobs decided he wanted a stronger and more scratch-resistant glass material to be used for the iPhone display screen.
He learned of a special process for making strength-hardened glass that had been developed in the 1960s, while talking with Wendell Weeks, CEO of Corning Incorporated.
Weeks told Jobs about Corning’s Project Muscle initiative and the special chemically strengthened glass they had developed and experimented with in 1960 – but later abandoned.
The special glass Corning had in development is said to have been called Gorilla Glass.
Jobs managed to convince the Corning CEO to start producing this special glass so it could be used for Apple’s upcoming new iPhone.
According to Walter Isaacson, author of the Steve Jobs biography, Jobs told Corning’s CEO that within six months, he would need enough of the glass for a million iPhones.
Fortunately for Apple, Corning was able to quickly re-tool and produce enough of the special glass from their Kentucky plant, which was making LCD screens.
This special Corning glass was used on the display screens of the first generation of iPhone’s made available to the public in June 2007.
Coincidently, the following year, Corning publically presented Gorilla Glass as a scratch-resistant protective cover to be used in mobile handheld devices with touchscreens.
Many people believe Corning first made Gorilla Glass in the 1960s.
Officially, Corning states this belief is a popular myth; however, Corning does say it had begun experimenting with “chemically strengthened glass” in 1960, under the name Project Muscle.
In 1961, through the knowledge obtained from Project Muscle, Corning created a new damage-resistant glass they called Chemcor.
Chemcor glass ended up being used in common kitchen glassware items, cookware, automobiles, aircraft, and eye-glass lenses.
Gorilla Glass, according to Corning, is a different glass composition and was made after Chemcor.
From the sources I have found, it seems likely the process for making Gorilla Glass was first developed in the 1960s, but it was not manufactured then.
Today’s Corning Gorilla Glass is made using a special ion-exchange process.
This ion-exchange is a chemical strengthening process where large ions are “stuffed” into the glass surface, creating a state of compression.
Gorilla Glass is designed to take advantage of this type of ion-exchange processing.
The glass is first placed in a hot bath of molten salt at a temperature of approximately 752 degrees Fahrenheit.
At this temperature, the smaller sodium ions leave the glass, and are replaced with the larger potassium ions from the salt bath.
The larger ions use more physical space and are compressed when the glass cools off. This produces a layer of “compressive stress” on the surface of the glass.
The special composition of Gorilla Glass allows the potassium ions to be dispersed beneath the surface, creating a high compressive stress layer deep into the glass.
This compressed layer then creates a thin, lightweight surface glass that is resistant to scratches and normal day-to-day handling.
The compression layer acts like an “armored shield,” making the glass exceptionally tough and damage-resistant, thus the name Gorilla Glass.
In January, Corning announced (and demonstrated), their new Gorilla Glass 2 product at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
The new glass is stronger than Gorilla Glass, and is about 20 percent thinner.
“Corning’s new glass composition, Gorilla Glass 2, enables slimmer and sleeker devices, brighter images, and greater touch sensitivity, providing an ideal solution for the newest, most sophisticated smartphones, tablets, and personal computers,” said David R. Velasquez, global director, marketing and commercial operations, for Corning Gorilla Glass.
Apple has not yet confirmed if the new iPad uses Gorilla Glass, or one of Corning’s other glass products.
However, it has been reported Apple’s iPhone glass display screens are being made in Corning factories located in Kentucky, and New York.
Oddly, Corning does not disclose on their website whether they provide glass for any of Apple’s products.
Corning does state that around 200 million smartphone screens were made of Gorilla Glass in 2011.
Gorilla Glass is made in the US, Japan, and Taiwan.
Corning glass is currently used by 30 major brands on more than 600 product models, and 600 million devices worldwide.
Corning’s Gorilla Glass sales are likely to reach $1 billion this year.
Several of the online blogs and discussion threads suggest Gorilla Glass 2 will be used for the surface touch screen on Apple’s next iPhone, most likely to be called the iPhone 5.
Since it is now officially spring, yours truly will soon commence cleaning the glass on his living room windows.
Telecommunications and all things tech has been a well-traveled road for me.
I enjoy learning what is new in technology and sharing it with others who enjoy reading my particular slant on it via this blog. I am also a freelance columnist for my hometown's print and digital newspaper. - Mark Ollig