Gorilla glass, the impossible to break, impossible to scratch, material that has shipped on devices such as the Motorola Droid and LG’s X300 notebook, started out as “Project Muscle” in a Corning laboratory in the late 1950s. The goal was to make a sheet of glass as strong as that of steel.
The technique, if you’re interesting in glass making, dubbed “fusion draw” calls for hot glass to be poured into a suspended trough then left to harden before finally going through a chemical treatment. Just how tough is Gorilla glass? It’s 2x to 3x stronger than chemically treated regular glass, even at small thicknesses. Corning initially tried to get Gorilla glass into the hands of car manufacturers so that they can utilize the product in wind shields, but Gorilla proved to be too expensive and difficult to produce in scale.
Chemcor, the name Corning uses internally when referring to Gorilla glass, sat in the labs until 2008 when the abnormally strong material got its first customer order. Now Corning expects Gorilla to start contributing to the company’s bottom line. “Initially, we were telling ourselves [Gorilla glass would be] a $10 million business,” said Corning researcher Ron Stewart. Now it’s a $170 million a year business.
The big question is whether or not Apple uses Gorilla glass. One of the new features of the iPhone 4 is the radical design departure from previous models. With the front and the back being made out of pure glass, it seems rather obvious that they would turn to Corning for a material that could withstand everyday wear and tear. When Jim Steiner, General Manager of Corning’s Specialty Materials Division was asked if Apple was one of the over 100 customers using Gorilla, he replied “not all our customers allow us to say.”
It’s a mystery that only the hardest of the hardcore enthusiast will care enough to unearth. Yet you can be sure that within a year or two there will be plenty of devices on the market that clone Apple’s iPhone 4 design, or at least utilize Gorilla glass to enable designs that were simply not possible several years ago due to practically reasons.
We can’t wait to see what the industry is going to turn out.