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Apple Sapphire Supplier GT Advanced Talks New Customers, Hints At Fall iPhone Launch

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Apple’s sapphire manufacturing partner GT Advanced released its fourth-quarter fiscal results today, and they announced a bunch of numbers and stuff about profitability as you might expect. But the more interesting info shared by GT is commentary regarding the ongoing Apple partnership and what it could lead to next. Plus, the company’s projections suggest we could see a new iPhone launch with sapphire glass coming this fall.

Per GT Advanced CEO Tom Gutierrez from the official release:

Our arrangement to supply sapphire materials to Apple is progressing well and we started to build out the facility in Arizona and staff the operation during the quarter. We are pleased to have Apple as a sapphire customer and to be in a position to leverage our proprietary know-how to enable the supply of this versatile material. While our primary focus during the balance of the year is to continue to execute on our commitments in Arizona, our aim is to position GT not only as an exceptional sapphire supplier to Apple but also as an unparalleled world-class supplier of sapphire material and equipment to a variety of customers.

That makes it sound like Apple has a lockdown on GT Advanced’s business for at least the next year (which could help Apple ship the first iPhones with sapphire displays), but all bets are off beyond then, which could mean we see the manufacturing company chart a trajectory similar to Corning’s with Gorilla Glass. Apple basically resuscitated Gorilla Glass, bringing it from interesting outlier tech to the defacto standard of premium smartphone manufacturing.

GT Advanced also hinted that it won’t stop at sapphire, but will also expand its manufacturing capabilities into a range of other types of materials for use in gadget construction. The company sees the sapphire business as an ‘in’ to the supply market, with no shortage of other possibilities for the end of 2014, ramping up considerably through next year.

[O]ur entry into sapphire materials may enable us to expand into other materials segments once we have fully ramped the operation in Arizona. The many diversification and investment seeds we have planted over the last several years in the LED, power electronics, advanced solar and industrial markets are expected to begin to bear fruit over the next 18 months. We are seeing significant interest in our new products and now expect equipment orders from these initiatives to be received during the latter part of 2014, with meaningful revenue recognition beginning in early 2015.

GT Advanced expanding into new technologies could have implications for its ongoing partnership with Apple, too. Apple has been moving to bring more of its manufacturing and supply chain to the U.S. in the past couple of years, including basing assembly of its new Mac Pro computers in Fort Worth, Texas, at a Flextronics partner facility. Apple continues to shift its supplier mix in general, with ongoing efforts to move away from dependence on Samsung.

GT Advanced serves a variety of customers, including large industrial and solar industry clients, so there are plenty of other opportunities for it to expand its business outside of Apple. Still, interesting to consider the company’s future potential as the next Corning of the smart devices industry, or as a player which has more to offer Apple beyond display tech.

Photo courtesy flickr user Joey DeVilla.