Canonical had planned on making a smartphone running Ubuntu instead of Google's Android OS, but the device never got off the ground in part because Apple bought up all the sapphire displays for the next three years. The displays Canonical wanted were 4.5-inches diagonally, which hints that Apple may be planning on using them for a larger screen iPhone.
Apple has been rumored to be working on an iPhone model with a screen that's larger than the 4-inch size currently used on the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S. Both models use Corning's Gorilla Glass, which is strong but not as scratch resistant as synthetic sapphire glass.
"Apple just snapped up the entire three-year supply of the same sapphire display we wanted for the Edge," said Canonical co-founder Mark Shuttleworth, according to Gigaom.
Even if the sapphire displays had been available, Canonical probably wouldn't have made its Edge smartphone because the company failed to meet its US$32 million IndiGoGo crowd funding goal.
The screens Canonical wanted weren't the same aspect ratio Apple currently uses on the iPhone and iPod touch, so it's hard to see exactly how they would fit in with the company's current iPhone lineup. If Apple is expecting developers to code their apps to support an extra screen size, they'd need some lead time along with an update to the tools Apple gives them to create their iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch apps.
If that's happening, there's a chance Apple could announce the odd size iPhone at its annual Worldwide Developer Conference this spring and give developers an updated version of Xcode ahead of the actual product launch.
Apple already has a deal in place where GT Technology will be producing massive amounts of synthetic sapphire. That glass is expected to be used for the surface of the rumored iWatch as well as iPhone screens. The company already uses sapphire to protect the iPhone camera and the iPhone 5S TouchID sensor.
Reports claim Apple will launch a new iPhone model some time this year with a screen size between 4.5-inches and 4.8-inches, and at least one analyst is expecting two larger sized iPhones to roll out this year.
Apple hasn't confirmed it bought up a three-year supply of sapphire glass, and the company certainly wouldn't say how it planned on using the material even if the purchase had been confirmed. What Mr. Shuttleworth's comments really give us is a little more information that helps support the notion that Apple is switching to sapphire for the iPhone display at some point, and adds a little more to support rumors of a larger screen size.