When you hear the term "Gorilla Glass," you likely think of mobile device screens, possibly even smartphone display "stress tests" in which overly enthusiastic nerds attempt to
purposely break assess the strength of glass displays. If so, that makes perfect sense, because many of today’s leading smartphone producers use Gorilla Glass, including Samsung and HTC, as well as notable PC makers Dell and HP. (A number of other major gadget makers also use Gorilla Glass, but they choose not to publicize it — and they have official agreements with Corning so that company can't disclose those partnerships.)
However, Corning's latest version of its flagship "cover glass," called "Vibrant Corning Gorilla Glass," represents a departure for the company. Scott Forester, director of innovation products at Corning, shares his insights on the latest Gorilla Glass, as well as the company's vision for the glass moving forward.
What is Vibrant Corning Gorilla Glass?
Let's start with what Vibrant Gorilla Glass is not. The glass is not a new version of Gorilla Glass. It uses Corning's current generation Gorilla Glass 4. And it's not meant for use as display glass. Instead, it's designed for use on the backs of smartphones or tablets, or the outside covers of mobile devices, such as laptops, or other accessories.
The product is all about customization, and it lets original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), brands and individuals create personalized gadgets with their own designs. It's composed of a hardened sheet of Gorilla Glass 4. Corning "paints" the rear side of the glass with a new type of ink the company specifically designed to stick to glass, so it doesn't scratch or rub off on the outside, according to Forester. And because it fuses to the rear side of the glass, it drastically reduces the glare from light on the inside of the panel and results in vivid, lifelike images, he says.
"Vibrant technology is, for us, the ability to put a full, multicolor image on the back of Gorilla Glass that gives you the durability of Gorilla, but then you have images that just kind of pop off the glass," Forester says.
When will Vibrant Gorilla Glass be available?
Acer will become the first company to offer a device with customizable Vibrant Gorilla Glass when it releases the Chromebook 14 for Work next month.
Forester also says Corning is in discussions with at least two other leading mobile device manufacturers, and he expects to announce related information soon. "I can't disclose who it is yet," Forester says, but they're among the top recognizable mobile devices makers. "I expect to have another announcement within the next quarter, with a similar approach, that we're pretty excited about."
It's worth noting, however, that the Chromebook 14 for Work product page features some important fine print: "A minimum order requirement must be met for Acer to offer the customization service." I reached out to Acer for more details, and according to its PR team, "[p]ricing for the Chromebook 14 for Work with a custom Vibrant Corning Gorilla Glass case will vary on the complexity and quantities of the colors in the design, but as a general rule, the minimum order quantity would be 1,000 units." Acer's minimum purchase limit means individuals can't buy just one custom device, and that restriction will put the option out of reach for many folks.
Samsung's latest Galaxy S7 phones and its Note 5 phablets have Gorilla Glass 4 displays and rear panels. Motorola had some success with its Moto Maker online phone customization tool, and it's not difficult to imagine Samsung or another phone maker offering a similar personalization utility for Gorilla Glass.
Will Vibrant Gorilla Glass may make its way into cases?
Many smartphone and tablet users protect new devices almost immediately with some sort of cover. Forester says Corning is considering many options to address the potential problem of users covering up custom Vibrant Gorilla Glass with cases.
"There are different ways to [answer those questions] and still provide the ability to customize," he says. "One idea that we've been kicking around is actually working with folks to integrate our glass into those types of covers. You still get the durability of the glass, your images are as vibrant as they can be, and they're high resolution, realistic — some of the things you really can't get with the other types of materials. "
Does Vibrant Gorilla Glass have enterprise appeal?
Though consumers are Corning's target customers for Vibrant Gorilla Glass, Forester says it also could be valuable for branding. "If you were in a corporation that was brand-centric, where your brand was your product, you could think about having devices — tablets, notebooks, phones — that now on the back, or even on the front, have your logo, in full color, in high definition," he says. "Your workforce becomes your advertising agency, as they travel around and engage with the public, [and] their devices become advertising billboards."
So how does Vibrant Gorilla Glass actually look?
Corning sent me two 12.5-inch by 8.25-inch samples of Vibrant Gorilla Glass so I could see the color quality for myself. At first, I wasn't blown away by the image quality. However, after I spent more time with the samples, and viewed them in environments with different levels of light, I noticed that some colors — light pastels, such as pinks, purples, greens and blue — really do seem to "glow," as if softly lit from behind.
The glass is cool, though certain types of images, with specific colors, will clearly benefit more from Corning's ink-and-glass tech.
Additional details on Corning Vibrant Gorilla Glass are available on the company's website.