One of the biggest problems with smartphones is glass breakage. Nearly everyone has suffered through a cracked screen at one point or another.
Corning makes Gorilla Glass that is used in billions of smartphone screens around the world. The latest version, Gorilla Glass 6, will be available on devices within the next several months.
Corning originally developed the glass in a small town in Kentucky's Bluegrass region in 2006, when Apple came calling that it needed glass for the first iPhone that debuted in 2007. The Harrodsburg, KY plant is now one of many Corning factories worldwide that make the glass, since demand is so high.
SEE: Discover the Corning plant where Gorilla Glass was developed (TechRepublic)
Corning continues to test and remake Gorilla Glass, with a new version coming out every couple of years. Corning says Gorilla Glass 6 will survive drops from higher heights than ever before, and will withstand multiple drops. It's twice as strong as Gorilla Glass 5, which was announced in July 2016.
"What we really tried to focus on was honestly improving drop durability, which continues to be the number one thing, when we survey customers, that they're looking for from the mechanical structure of their smartphones," said Scott Forester, division vice president of marketing and innovation products for Corning.
"For the past two years, as we've surveyed consumers, what they tell us is that they tend to drop their phones, on average, about seven times a year, globally. And it varies depending on what country you're in, things like that. And about half the time, it's from a meter or below. So it made us start thinking about maybe going through this pursuit of ever higher and higher drop heights, while it's of value, the more impactful piece is the fact that you dropped your phone multiple times," Forester said.
More than 50% of smartphone drops are from 1 meter or less, so Corning made Gorilla Glass 6 able to survive 15 drops from 1 meter onto rough surfaces, Forester said.
More phones now feature glass not only on the front, but the back, with 28% of all phones sold this year and nearly 100% of all high-end phones featuring glass backs, Forester said. With this development, it becomes all the more important for durable glass that can survive multiple drops, he added.
Glass backs make wireless charging possible, and glass is also radio frequency (RF) transparent, so Bluetooth antennas, headphones or speakers can more easily be used. 5G also needs transparent material, such as glass, to work. And so does near field charging or conductors such as Apple Play or Google Play.
"All those antennas are all highly impacted by metal. So the less metal you have in your phone and the more transparent material you have in your phone, like glass, the more it enables all these other functionalities," Forester said. "When we first think about having glass on the back, you think it's a design feature, and it actually unlocks all these other cool functions in the phones. And I think that's the reason we're excited about it and we think glass is really on the right side of the technology curve when it comes to the material choices that the phone designers are looking for."
The new Gorilla glass will also help the enterprise, both for the manufacturers and developers creating apps.
"A more durable device will reduce in what we call field returns. And you would think that if you've got lower field returns, lower drops, lower frequency of drops that from a B2B or a commercial prospective or a commercial customer or enterprise customers, they'll see less warranty claims and things like that," Forester said. "And then, of course, I think the more glass you see on devices, that should begin to help with the ability to do connecting through all the different antennas. And it'll be interesting to see how all the apps begin to try to design and optimize the backs of their antenna set."
While Corning doesn't release information on all of the manufacturers that use its glass, due to nondisclosure agreements, the company does say that the super strong glass is on more than 6 billion devices worldwide from 45 different major brands. Customers that Corning does disclose working with include Motorola, OnePlus, Nokia, Samsung, and Huawei.
- Corning's new Gorilla Glass 6 will let your phone survive multiple drops (CNET)
- Gorilla Glass 5 will protect phones and tablets from 80% of drops (TechRepublic)
- Photo gallery of the Corning plant (TechRepublic)
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- Gorilla Glass 5 will survive drops from selfie-taking height (ZDNet)
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Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including People, W and Women's Wear Daily.