Apple has taken the wraps off its new iPhone 12 lineup today, and a standout feature is a new ceramic-hardened display named Ceramic Shield, available on the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Apple says Ceramic Shield is “tougher than any smartphone glass,” with four times greater resistance to damage from drops.
Apple isn’t the first smartphone manufacturer to incorporate glass-ceramic. The Essential Phone, Xiaomi’s Mi Mix series, and Samsung’s Galaxy S10 Plus all have ceramic panels, but they’re located on the rear of the handset (optional on the Galaxy). By using glass-ceramic for the display itself, though, Apple can claim greater utility for customers. After all, protecting your screen from smashing is more important than protecting your phone’s rear.
According to glass-ceramic manufacturer Corning, which Apple worked with on Ceramic Shield, glass-ceramic is a material that excels because it’s tough, lightweight, and “virtually impervious to heat and electricity.”
The company tells The Verge that the new Ceramic Shield is “the world’s first transparent and color-free glass-ceramic,” which is probably the reason it’s suitable for a smartphone screen now. Here’s a larger explanation from the company:
Corning’s new material consists of nano ceramic crystals embedded in the glass matrix. The crystals embedded in the glass matrix are an order of magnitude smaller than the wavelength of light, and index matched to the glass. This makes the material highly transparent, unlike other glass ceramics. Additionally, the crystals form interlocked structures that result in high flaw resistance and provide a mechanism to deflect and arrest cracks. The glass matrix is strengthened by ion exchange to provide a high degree of retained strength after damage.
That all sounds great, but we’ll be curious to see how these displays stand up to real-life rough and tumble. As any smartphone owner knows, manufacturers may talk a big game about tougher screens, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be silently praying to God when you turn over your phone after an unexpected drop test.
Other big features coming to the new iPhone 12 lineup include 5G connectivity, OLED screens, updated processors, and a refreshed industrial design with flattened metal rims (that looks an awful lot like older iPhone 4 handsets).
Update, 5:21PM ET: Added additional info from Corning