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As hard as it may be to believe from looking at their sleek glass enclosures, Apple’s iPhones are actually some of the most durable smartphones on the market, thanks to Apple’s use of leading-edge glass.
Almost every year when Apple unveils a new iPhone model, it touts it as having the best smartphone glass ever made, and that’s more than just marketing speak: multiple drop tests performed year after year bear this out. While the iPhone doesn’t score top points all the time against its competitors, it always holds it own, and more often than not it even remains functional even after multiple drops.
While Apple doesn’t really say what type of glass it uses on the iPhone, it’s generally believed that most of its recent iPhones have used variations on Corning’s Gorilla Glass, with the iPhone XR, iPhone XS/XS Max, and iPhone 11 family all likely using Gorilla Glass 6 — the latest version that’s currently available. There were some rumours last year that the iPhone 11 would step this up a bit with even more durable glass, but it’s unclear whether this even turned out to be the case, as most tests have been inconclusive, and Corning certainly hadn’t released anything newer at that point — at least not to the public.
It’s been about two years since Corning introduced Gorilla Glass 6, but this week the company has announced its next iteration, which is getting dubbed Gorilla Glass Victus, perhaps as an indication that the company is moving away from its numbered names.
What’s particularly interesting about Victus, however, is that this time around Corning is not just focusing on making the glass more durable in terms of its resistance to drops, but for the first time in about six years it’s actually going to be bolstering up its resistance to scratches as well.
As The Verge points out, even though Corning has released several versions of Gorilla Glass in the past few years, it hasn’t made any significant improvements in the glass’ resistance to things like coins and keys since Gorilla Glass 3 arrived back in 2014. In fact, The Verge argues that subsequent versions may have actually worsened the scratch resistance, with tests that showed that Gorilla Glass 4 actually performed more poorly, while Gorilla Glass 5 made only a partway return to the scratch-resistance the Gorilla Glass 3 had been famous for.
To be fair, however, Corning has made some pretty great leaps and bounds in that time period when it comes to the survivability of drops, which many would argue is far more important. While a scratched screen is no fun, it’s also something that’s far more easily addressed — using a screen protector or simply keeping your iPhone in a pocket or purse where it won’t come into contact with metallic objects can usually keep it scratch-free — and it also won’t leave you with an unusable phone like a sudden drop onto a concrete surface will.
Over the years, Corning has improved Gorilla Glass to take it from surviving waist-height drops to shoulder-height drops, and Victus promises to not only address scratch-resistance, but to improve impact protection even further as well. Corning claims that Victus has twice the scratch resistance of Gorilla Glass 6, which works out to four times the resistance of competing glass, and that a Victus-clad dummy phone can survive a 6.5-foot (2 metre) drop.
That works out to about 1.25 feet more than Corning’s published specs for Gorilla Glass 6, which already improved on Gorilla Glass 5 by 1.35 feet.
It’s also not just about individual drops either; Corning also notes that Victus will handle even more repeated drops too — up to 20 3.3-foot (1 metre) drops on average. Gorilla Glass 6 was only rated for 15.
Your Mileage May Vary
Corning of course only provides textbook numbers, and as the many drop tests we’ve seen in the real world show, your mileage is going to vary greatly depending on what smartphone you’re using, how you drop it, and what kind of surface it lands on. The same is also true when it comes to scratch resistance, of course.
Corning isn’t under any illusion that it’s glass is invulnerable, and its VP and lead Gorilla Glass scientist candidly admitted to The Verge that Victus isn’t “pocket-proof,” acknowledging that bits of dirt, sand, metal, and other materials that can get wedged into keys, coins, and other objects can still cause scratching. “I think those caveats would still apply on any glass material,” Amin notes, while adding that “what this does for you is reduce those instances quite dramatically.”
Further, there could be different implementations. For example, since Victus is so much better, at least one unnamed manufacturer has decided that what the new glass will actually allow it to do is simply use a thinner layer of it, which could result in a glass covering that’s no more durable than the Gorilla Glass 6 that came before.
When’s It Coming?
As we noted, Apple never disclosed what it actually uses for the glass on its iPhones these days, but since the company not only started with Corning Glass, but was at least partially responsible for advances in its development for the original iPhone back in 2007, it’s a pretty safe bet that it’s still in the Corning Gorilla Glass family (although it’s also possible that Apple and Corning still work together on customizing more specialized versions of it for the iPhone).
Officially, Samsung is expected to be the first smartphone maker to include Gorilla Glass Victus in a product that’s coming “in the next few months” and others are working on it as well. As for when it will come to the iPhone? Considering Apple’s tight relationship with Corning, there’s a very remote possibility that this year’s iPhone 12 may already include it, but it’s more likely we won’t see it on an Apple smartphone until next year when the “iPhone 13” debuts.