Some time ago in 2007, a certain CEO did really get annoyed that the screen of his prototype phone got scratched up in his pocket. So, a few weeks before unveiling it, he decided to swap the plastic cover of the screen for chemically-strengthened glass.
Plastic was the standard back in the day, it had indeed done a good job for years. But that was not sufficient for Steve Jobs. His decision changed the mobile landscape and made Gorilla Glass the standard.
Counterclockwise: The rise of Gorilla Glass
It is produced by Corning, which no doubt has a long history in specialty glass. It has been the maker of the Pyrex cookware. It also made the glass for the Hubble telescope’s main mirror. It made the windows of the space shuttle. Corning even, in fact, produced the glass for Thomas Edison’s light bulb.
Yet this legendary company was rather struggling – by 2007 it had in fact been losing money for five years straight. Thanks to Steve Jobs and the massive success of the iPhone, the company has (mostly) returned to profitability.
This quickly did catch on. In 2008, the iPhone 3G and the T-Mobile G1, the first-ever Android phone, brought Gorilla Glass in to focus as more people came to know about it.
The following year some Symbian (e.g. Samsung i8910 Omnia HD and the Nokia X6) did adopt Gorilla Glass as did various feature phones, such as the extra long LG BL40 New Chocolate and even the small, affordable Samsung S3650 Corby. In 2010, Gorilla Glass could indeed be found on roughly 200 million smartphones, according to data from Corning.
And for a long time, Gorilla Glass was sufficient. However, the upgrade treadmill, as well as the drive for thinner phones, does lead to the introduction of Gorilla Glass 2 in 2012 – 20% thinner than GG1, but just as strong (says, Corning).
After that, there was a new version almost every year – GG3 in 2013 did reduce reflections and fingerprint smudges, GG4 in 2014 improved impact resistance, GG6 improved it further (it was advertised as being able to survive drops from “selfie height”).
One is currently on Gorilla Glass 6, which has indeed reworked chemistry to achieve better resistance to damage after GG5 faced criticism.
Gorilla Glass does happen to be not only strengthened glass on the market, of course. Apple, the company that did push GG into the stratosphere, did discard it and switched to “ion-strengthened” glass starting with the iPhone 6. Apple originally did want to make use of sapphire, but the company that was preparing to produce the panels did go bankrupt.
There is an occasional alternative such as Dragontrail, which was used on the Pixel 3a most recently and some Xperia phones prior to that. Till now Gorilla Glass is the standard. And life without it can indeed be tough, just look at what happened to the top screen layer of the Galaxy Fold. Corning is indeed working on foldable Gorilla Glass, and there is a special version for wearables, even some TVs use Gorilla Glass. It is a material that is highly important for modern tech (the modern world has screens everywhere) and it does deserve recognition.