NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Apple
(AAPL - Get Report) has locked up a big part of the world's sapphire production capacity. Apple customers have a special appreciation for a finely crafted instrument. This will be big. Very big.
If Apple produces a new iPhone 6 with a 4.7-inch sapphire display, and most believe the company will, it will be a double win for Apple's competitive prospects. First, because we do so much more with our smartphones than just a few years ago, a larger display is something iPhone customers have been hungry for.
Second, that larger screen composed of sapphire will create a sensation of value and tactile appreciation all out of proportion to a comparable phone with Gorilla Glass. It will be a true "whole is more than the sum of the parts" effect.
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Unfortunately, many see sapphire as simply a more scratch-resistant display and wonder how wise Apple is to replace a $3 piece of Gorilla Glass with a $30 piece of sapphire. Seen in the abstract, from a distance, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.
That is, I predict, until one holds the iPhone 6 in the hand and sees and feels the craftsmanship of this spectacular mineral, a chunk of aluminum-oxide. In fact, one can think of it as transparent aluminum but with a hardness second only to diamond.
The Jewelry Effect
People like to feel distinctive. Apple appeals to customers who appreciate a touch of class. Some Apple critics may be uncomfortable with that feeling, but it's how Apple has accumulated $167 billion in total cash and investments.
The reality is that Apple has a long history of excellence in industrial design. Jonathan Ive
has made a career out of making things that just feel right in the hand. That story is well told by Leander Kahney in his book Jony Ive
One shouldn't underestimate how dedicated Apple is to differentiating itself from Samsung
. Apple has tried, in the courts
, to preserve its pioneering innovation with the iPhone, but it turns out to be reasonably easy in 2014 to build a smartphone with a touch screen and little icons, and then maneuver in the courts.