Yes, the iPhone 7 lenses really are sapphire

There's a YouTube video going around showing tests conducted on the sapphire lens of the iPhone 7 that's raised some internet controversy about whether or not the lens is actually sapphire. Here's what Apple told iMore in a statement:

"Apple confirms the iPhone 7 camera lens is sapphire, and under proper testing conditions achieves the hardness and purity results expected from sapphire."

So what's going on? The video is fine for what it is, but it doesn't include the necessary controls and contains enough theories throughout that the ultimate conclusion it reaches might escape people who don't understand the subject or don't watch it closely.

Let's break it down.

Is Apple using sapphire glass?

Apple is absolutely using sapphire glass. Read the comment above, refer to

Sapphire crystal lens cover

See Phil Schiller's tweet:

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Or simply watch the YouTube video:

When I tested the outside of the lens, I got a huge reading of aluminum oxide [sapphire — Ed.], which means the lens is most definitely sapphire on the exterior.

So why is it scratching?

It's not. The lower hardness tools aren't scratching the lens. They're fracturing it.

The scratching of the watch vs. the fracturing of the lens is clearly stated in the video and shown under the microscope.

Fracturing — as opposed to scratching — is what happens when you have something so incredibly thin — unlike the much thicker watch used for comparison — and you apply pressure with no level of control.

You'd have to precisely apply the same level of force, likely to the same thickness of material, to properly do that test.

So is Apple just using a thin veneer of sapphire over glass and calling it sapphire?

The video spends a lot of time theorizing that that may be the case, which may confuse people who aren't paying attention, but ultimately says:

There is a silicon [glass — Ed.] layer, but it is incredibly small in proportion to the rest of the lens, so it's pretty much a non-issue.

The YouTube video theorizes that it's there to "minimize reflection or something minor," and that the "Vast portion of the lens is aluminum oxide [sapphire — Ed.]."

There are coatings on the lens, including a fingerprint-resistant coating, but the material of the lens itself remains sapphire.

Wait, if it's a "non-issue", why am I reading accusations of Apple not using sapphire or using a laminate?

Either they didn't understand the video, the science, or they just want attention.

What about contaminants? Is Apple using lower quality sapphire?

Apple says no, and the video makes it impossible to tell otherwise, since it states the machine could very well contain the contaminants. A test would have to be run on properly cleaned equipment to provide useful information there.

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Anything else I need to know?

Apple seems to have been using the same type of sapphire on its lenses since sapphire lenses were introduced with iPhone 5. Even at the anecdotal level, there's been nothing to even remotely suggest the material isn't hard enough for the job it's been given — to protect the camera system under normal conditions.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.