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Apple pouring £350m into sapphire glass production as iPhone 6 rumours surge

Apple is reportedly spending over £350 million to speed up production of its sapphire screen, which is predicted to feature on the upcoming iPhone 6.

The $578 million (£353 million) investment has been pumped into the Cupertino-based company's advanced sapphire furnaces (ASFs), which Apple hopes will be able to churn out a financially-viable amount of the hard-wearing glass.

Sapphire has a value of 9 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, so when it's machined into a thin, transparent plate, the effect is to create an extremely tough and "virtually scratch free" surface.

The near scratch-proof sapphire glass is already used on the iPhone 5S to cover the fingerprint-reading home button and the camera lens, but the latest rumours are that the next iteration of the company's smartphone range will feature the glass across the whole screen.

Sapphire glass is seen by many to be the successor to Corning Inc.'s Gorilla Glass that has been the standard for smartphone screens since 2010, and it has long been rumoured that the iPhone 6 would feature this much tougher material.

The half-million dollar cash influx seems to have largely gone towards sapphire glass manufacturer GT Advanced Technologies, which Apple hopes will ramp up "the development of its next generation, large capacity ASF furnaces to deliver low cost, high volume manufacturing of sapphire material."

There have long been complaints surrounding the durability of the screens on Apple devices. A survey in 2012 found that 57 per cent of British iPhone owners have cracked their screens, and a worldwide survey found that nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of iPhones had been cracked.

This is likely why Apple sees the inclusion of sapphire glass as a make-or-break proposition for its next-gen phone. With pressure from phone manufacturers Samsung and Google splitting the smartphone market, the company of Steve Jobs must see the need to justify its typically steep prices.

There also seems to be some anxiety around timescales. Worldwide production of sapphire glass is limited, and if the rumours are true about an iPhone 6 with a screen expanding to 4.7in, from the 5S' current 4in, then the company is going to need a lot of the stuff.

Still, if Apple manages to secure a decent proportion of the world's sapphire glass production capability, it's going to see itself in a very strong position once all the other companies catch on.

Image: Flickr (launceston_lad)