The order was made by GT Advanced, which is Apple partner since November 2013, when they announced that they have “entered into a multi-year supply agreement with Apple Inc. to provide sapphire material”. At the same time, Apple announced that they are going to build a new manufacturing facility in the city of Mesa, Arizona.
The move comes following a number of rumors that have been circulating for awhile about how Apple might up the ante with their next release, the already anticipated iPhone 6. There is also some question about whether or not a new breed of past releases, like the incredibly popular iPhone 5s, might have new crystal displays.
Either way, this gives us an answer to the manufacturing facilities they had been making a mad dash to have operational by this month. It would seem that a major focus will be producing these displays, rather that going through questionable third parties. Given Apple’s luck in using factories that have been accused of human rights abuses, it is probably a good move.
The good news is that sapphire crystal material would make Apple devices much stronger and scratch resistant than the glass that is used nowadays. Apple is going big, because the costs to employ sapphire crystal displays are quite high(4-5 times expensive than the reinforced glass) so I think they will try to put this new technology on every new device they will release.
How do we know they are building displays and not sapphire crystal buttons or fingerprint detectors? Because they have commissioned machines capable of creating larger scale items, such as the 5-inch screens. Not machines built to create smaller items, like buttons.
This is all very exciting, and it shows where new Apple products will be going in the near future. Here’s one video from MWC 2013, where GT Advanced showed a Sapphire Crystal Display made for the iPhone 5.