Traditionally employed to make light-emitting diodes (LEDs), sapphire substrates now are being used by Apple and other smartphone makers as covers for camera lenses and home buttons, contributing to a rapid growth in sapphire demand.
Demand for 2-inch-diameter sapphire ingots used to make substrates will amount to 84 kilometers in 2016, up 166 percent from 32 kilometers in 2012, according to IHS. This year will see particularly strong growth, with demand rising 70 percent to reach 54 kilometers. Millimeters are a commonly used measure for sapphire ingot demand.
"Apple triggered the current boom in demand when it became the first smartphone maker to employ a sapphire lens cover in 2012," said
Apple first employed sapphire for the iSight camera lens cover in the iPhone 5 in
For its part,
Sapphire substrates are suitable for covering lenses, buttons and displays because they are transparent, yet more scratch-resistant than glass. Glass can become scratched from contact with hard objects, which can degrade the performance of a camera lens or a fingerprint recognition window.
The LED market historically has dominated the sapphire segment, accounting for 90 percent of ingot demand in 2012. Sapphire plays an essential role in LEDs, serving as their substrate upon which they are built.
In contrast, covers for smartphone and other mobile devices in 2012 represented a negligible total of less than 5 percent of sapphire demand. However, this situation is changing rapidly, with covers set to consume 20 percent of total sapphire ingots in 2014.
Despite the rising demand for covers, LEDs remain a major source of growth for the sapphire market.
"Global LED chip makers are increasing their run rates in 2013 thanks to the growth of the lighting market, which is boosting demand for sapphire substrates in LED use," Son said. "However, demand for sapphire substrates from the smartphone market has been climbing as well. These combined demand drivers will help ease oversupply of the sapphire ingot market that had lasted for the past few years, and will significantly contribute to its growth."
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