Are Sapphire Screens the Key to Hardened Mobile Devices for the Enterprise?

Sapphire screens have made a big splash in the rumor mill lately for the next generation of iPhones. All the stories I’ve read tout sapphire’s scratch resistance, shatter-resistance, and even caustic substance resistance as great for consumers–but what about the enterprise?

In the days of yore, Windows CE handhelds were available from some  manufacturers as ‘hardened’ devices to withstand the rigors of factories, and use by field workers and healthcare workers. However, two things conspire against the availability of hardened devices in the age of iOS and Android: 

  1. The conductivity requirements of capacitive touch screens make it harder to have a very tough yet truly transparent and finger-sensitive screen on any hardened device.
  2. In the iOS world, only Apple makes devices, so you can’t have a 3rd party manufacturer create a factory-hardened iOS device, other than to retrofit an Apple-manufactured device.

We’ve had clients looking for hardened devices on some of our recent mobility projects. One person I know refused to consider iOS devices with Otterbox-type cases because “they don’t come hardened from the factory”–and a super-durable phone case simply wasn’t the same as factory hardening. So he bought a supposedly hardened-from-the-factory Android device, to test it out. The funny thing is, it subsequently fell out of his hands onto the street and instantly cracked the screen. So much for factory hardening.

That anecdote shows how mobile devices’ screens are the Achilles’ heel in any concept of hardening. I really had no answer for enterprises that wanted a truly hardened mobile device that ran iOS or Android.

Recently, there have been reports of an Apple supplier building sapphire screens in Arizona, with enough production for up to 200 million devices per year. While presumably aimed at the mainstream consumer/worker, these screens could solve that Achilles’ heel problem for hardened iOS devices for the enterprise.

Wrap a high-quality, durable protective case on an iPhone with a sapphire screen, and you’ve pretty much solved the problem.

Is your enterprise looking for hardened devices? Would sapphire screens solve some or all of the problems you’re encountering getting a modern hardened device? Let me know in the comments.


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