Smartphone screens get tougher - Gorilla Glass 5 unveiled

By Steven Overly

Easily broken screens rank among the most frequent complaints from smartphone users. Photo / AP
Easily broken screens rank among the most frequent complaints from smartphone users. Photo / AP

Dropping your smartphone mid-selfie may soon be less traumatic.

New York glass maker Corning has unveiled the latest iteration of Gorilla Glass, which the company claims is four times as likely to survive a fall from waist or shoulder height as its competitors.

The company's Gorilla Glass products have been used in 4.5 billion devices since 2007, including products from Samsung, Apple, Motorola, LG, Hewlett-Packard and others, according to its website.

A global survey cited by Corning revealed that 85 percent of smartphone users have dropped their mobile device at least once in the past year and that 55 percent have dropped their mobile device three or more times in the past year.

That's a lot of buttery fingers and potentially cracked screens. Thus, it's no surprise that easily broken screens rank among the most frequent complaints from smartphone users.

In laboratory tests, Corning dropped phones face down on to "rough, unforgiving surfaces," such as asphalt, from waist and shoulder height, presuming that many accidents happen while putting a phone in your pocket or taking a photo. Gorilla Glass 5 remains intact after falls from about 1.5 metres approximately 80 percent of the time, the company asserts.

Here's how Gorilla Glass is forged: Corning places glass into a "hot bath of molten salt" that heats up to 400 degrees Celcius. The process causes sodium ions to leave the glass, and potassium ions from the salt bath replace them. Because potassium ions are larger, they produce a "layer of compressive stress" deep inside the glass that resists damage.

Gorilla Glass is hardly the first innovation for the 160-year-old Corning. The company's history includes developing the casing for Thomas Edison's incandescent light, the original heat-resistant glass cookware, and the cathode rate tubes that were used in experimental television sets.

Corning's release comes as consumers tend to be keeping their smartphones for longer periods of time before upgrading to the newest model, said William Stofega, an industry analyst at IDC. Fewer mobile phone carriers and manufacturers are offering subsidies to purchase new phones, which has contributed to more consumers leasing devices or paying full retail price. Gorilla Glass 5 and its promise to be less breakable could give some devices a marketing advantage, he said.

"Everyone is paying top dollar for premium devices [and] these devices have been prone to shattering," Stofega said. "Honestly, despite the fact everyone looks at brand, display is a really important part of the retail sales process."

For slow-motion images of falling smartphones shattering into pieces, check out the company's promotional video:

- Washington Post

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