Apple Patents Smudge-Resistant Sapphire Coating, Suggesting Displays Are On The Way

Apple has filed for a patent (via AppleInsider) that adds further fuel to the fire around the possibility it will use sapphire glass for future device displays. The the new application describes how an oleophobic (oil-repelling) coating might be added to sapphire glass to make it smudge and fingerprint-resistant. So far, we’ve seen most of the evidence around Apple’s sapphire display plans come from its partnerships with third-party manufacturers, but this is a fairly direct admission it’s working on that kind of tech.

It’s more straightforward because Apple directly refers to using the coating on device displays including those for phones, tablets and other mobile hardware. Oleophobic coatings currently figure in Apple’s device, preventing the all-glass touchscreens from accruing too much in the way of grime from being constantly poked with your grubby fingers. Apple first debuted the tech in the iPhone 3GS, and has used it pretty much ever since.

The issue is that using the same technique that makes it work with Gorilla Glass doesn’t necessarily work with sapphire. Apple’s patent details how standard treatments also break down quicker when used with sapphire, as it has found through testing. Apple proposes some workarounds from this, including a method by which a sandwich layer of Gorilla Glass-like material is used on top of the sapphire base layer to make sure the coating sticks.

This is a relatively recent patent, originally filed for in September of last year, so it’s a good indicator that Apple got serious about working out the specifics around building sapphire displays around that time. Corning has already preemptively gone on the defensive, suggesting that sapphire would have weaknesses compared to its own Gorilla Glass solution, but Apple’s partnership with GT Advanced for a $578 million sapphire production facility is another strong indicator the next iPhone (or the one after that) could use a new material for its touchscreen display.