Based on hype alone, you'd think that sapphire was the ultimate replacement for glass on phone screens. However, that's not totally true -- while sapphire is extremely scratch-resistant, it's both more expensive and more likely to shatter if your device nose-dives into the sidewalk. Corning may have found a way to combine the best properties of both materials, though. It recently teased Project Phire, a glass that's as resistant to drops as Gorilla Glass 4 while touting scratch protection that "approaches" sapphire. The company isn't saying much more about the technology at this point, but it should go on sale sometime later this year.
Corning hasn't said which companies are interested in Phire, but it should be important for safeguarding both smartphones and wearables. Although sapphire is cheap enough now that it's not just reserved for luxury phones and watches, it's still expensive. You'll only see it on mid-range and high-end Apple Watch models, for example. Phire potentially brings that kind of anti-scratch protection to lower-cost smartwatches, and makes it more practical for the large displays of modern phones. There's no doubt that this is a defensive move on Corning's part -- the company was quick to lash out at rumors of sapphire iPhone screens last year and otherwise do what it could to prevent its big clients from ditching glass. Still, that reactionary approach is good news if it means you can keep your devices looking pristine without having to be overly cautious.