Event: Information about Apple's sapphire usage was tucked within the WSJ's fascinating look into the troubled Apple and GT Advanced Technologies sapphire deal. - Link ($)
From the WSJ:
"Apple consumes one-fourth of the world’s supply of sapphire to cover the iPhone’s camera lens and fingerprint reader. Early last year, the company began looking for a much larger supply, to cover the iPhone’s screen."
Apple's intention with sapphire and the iPhone is becoming clearer: With sapphire already being used for the iPhone camera lens and fingerprint reader, and now the iPad fingerprint reader, Apple needed a significant amount of sapphire supply to come onto the market if it wanted to use the material for iPhone screens. Sapphire's biggest benefit is being scratch resistance, as seen in this video, while negatives include weight and cost (which Apple looked to alleviate by having GT innovate in terms of production). Due to the combination of managerial mishaps at GT and changing Apple requests, the sapphire being produced did not meet Apple's strict standards.
From all indications Apple is still interested in using sapphire for iPhone screens (would have served as a nice upgrade feature for the more expensive 6 Plus), but for now any near-term plans seem to be on hold. There is no reason to assume Apple is facing a sapphire supply issue for Apple Watch (the Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition collections use sapphire crystal) considering GT was geared towards sapphire for iPhone screens. I estimate Apple will sell approximately 30 million Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition collection units over the first two years on the market (out of a total 60 million Apple Watch units). The sapphire supply needed for 30 million Apple Watch screens over the next two years pales in comparsion to the approximate 400 million iPhones that will be sold during the same time period.