Apple's GT Advanced Technologies troubles are well-known, but a report coming out of Taiwan suggests that Apple isn't ready to give up on sapphire displays for iPhone just yet. Chinese-language The China Economic Weekly reported (via English-language Focus Taiwan) that Apple-supplier Foxconn is building a plant in China to produce sapphire for iPhone displays.
According to the report, Foxconn has signed an agreement with the Zhengzhou city government in Henan Province, in central China to develop a 133 hectare sapphire factory.
There's all manner of room for error in this report. For one thing, Foxconn may or may not be doing this in partnership with Apple. In other words, even if the report is accurate, there's no guarantee that Apple is actively involved with the plant. Foxconn could be building it on spec, hoping that it can produce material that Apple wants.
On the other hand, Foxconn has been doing business with Apple for a long time. The company knows how Apple works, and isn't likely to idly bet on being able to make Apple happy without Apple's full and massive participation in every step of the process.
As discussed by me and Jeff Gamet during Wednesday's Apple Context Machine podcast, Apple's micromanagement played a role in GTAT's troubles, but that micromanagement is just par for the course when it comes to Foxconn.
There's another interesting aspect of this story—Foxconn has no more experience making sapphire than GTAT did. While there are a lot of sapphire producers around the world—most of them relatively small—Apple chose to work with a furnace maker the first time around. That failed spectacularly, but if this story is accurate, Apple is turning to yet another sapphire n00b for round two.
Of course, Foxconn is not your every day n00b. This company is the single largest manufacturer on the planet with more employees than you can shake a stick at. While it may not have any sapphire experience, Foxconn knows manufacturing.
One last note: it's a shame that GTAT's failure means that Apple's sapphire won't be made in the U.S. I personally hope Apple's interest in making more products in the U.S. is alive and kicking.