Corning, the glass and ceramics manufacturer once best known for its cookware line, has branched out into smartphone screens in recent years. The first few generations of the iPhone used the company's Gorilla Glass, prized for its scratch resistance.
Gorilla Glass 5 is the latest generation of the technology, unveiled today at an event at Corning's research center in Palo Alto, Calif. In addition to scratch resistance, it's designed to offer more protection against another common smartphone pitfall—dropping your handset from what you might call "selfie height."
The rise of the selfie means that smartphone owners now have more of an opportunity to drop their phones from higher up, hence the 5-foot limit of Gorilla Glass 5. Previous generations of Gorilla Glass are shatter resistant, but only if dropped from a height of about 3 feet—that's waist height for most people.
During the event, Corning engineers joined Vice President John Bayne (below) to demonstrate their drop-testing procedures for the new material, which will start to show up in consumer devices before the end of the year. The battery of tests included hurtling a steel metal ball through a tube to hit the glass, as well as attaching it to a mock smartphone that was then dropped by a robotic arm.
The result is that in 80 percent of lab tests, Gorilla Glass 5 survived an impact greater than 850 Newtons of force from a height of 5.2 feet. That's roughly twice the failure threshold of Gorilla Glass 4, which is used in high-end devices like the Samsung Galaxy S7.
Corning also developed Gorilla Glass 5 to slim down without losing its strength. Currently, smartphone glass can be as thin as 0.4 millimeters, and the company is now offering 0.3-millimeter glass to device manufacturers for evaluation and further testing.
One thing Gorilla Glass won't be is expensive: glass typically makes up less than 1 percent of the cost of a typical smartphone, according to Bayne.
In addition to Samsung, more than 40 smartphone makers use Gorilla Glass, including LG and HTC. Corning has an on-again, off-again relationship with Apple; Gorilla Glass can be found in the iPhone 6 and some earlier models, but not the latest iPhone 6s.
In addition to the latest Gorilla Glass, the company is also working on a project it calls "Corning Fire," a blend of glass and sapphire. Corning competitor GT Technologies had been working on a sapphire screen intended for iPhones until it declared bankruptcy in 2014. At today's event, Bayne said there are still plans to market Fire glass for the wearables market, though he didn't offer more details.