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 The Nokia Lumia 1020 has been described as the ‘miracle’ cameraphone and left people scratching their heads and wondering how we managed to ‘miniaturise a monster.’

No doubt, it’s an amazing achievement but for all of its imaging, engineering and design expertise, even Nokia couldn’t have made this superphone alone.

One of the key partners on the Lumia 1020 is Corning, who provided their third-generation Gorilla Glass for the 4.5” display and the camera cover on the back.

Many Conversations readers will be familiar with Gorilla Glass; indeed, the display on your smartphone is probably made of it.

Gorilla Glass is used by 30 major manufacturers on a 1000 different product models and is featured on 1.5 billion devices worldwide. Corning bestrides the technology industry with its glass products like, well, a very large gorilla.

David Velasquez

Dawn of the Gorilla Age

Gorilla Glass made its debut in 2007 and David Velasquez, Corning’s marketing and commercial operations director, admits that they managed to catch the wave for smartphones and touch screen devices just as the market was taking off.

“There is some serendipity there. We were in the right place, at the right time with the right product,” he says in an interview with Conversations in New York.

The first Gorilla Glass was three times as strong and half the thickness of their competitor’s efforts.

Gorilla Glass 2 came out in early 2012 and it could be used up to 20% thinner without losing any of its performance. It’s already at .5mm and they will get thinner still because ‘you can’t get thin enough.’

3 is the magic number

The latest evolution, Gorilla Glass 3, was launched earlier this year and features for the first time on a Nokia product in the Lumia 1020.

For Gorilla Glass 3, Corning looked at the glass at the atomic level and engineered the glass structure so that the molecular bond arrangement could provide improved damage resistance.

As a result they have:

  • Improved on how much force is required to start a scratch by 3 times
  • 40% reduction in the ‘lateral cracks’ (the ones you really want to avoid, rather than the ‘merely’ cosmetic scratches.)
  • 40% increase of the force required to break the screen when lateral scratches do occur.

Through the looking glass

Gorilla Glass 3 features on the back of the Lumia 1020 as well as the front display.

Nokia chose Gorilla Glass 3 as the camera cover because of its excellent durability, of course, but also for its superior light transmission performance. In other words, it lets in more light, which helps with the imaging performance.

Nokia Lumia 1020

This level of detail demonstrates the extremely close partnership between Nokia and Corning.

“The relationship has developed over time and we’re both very actively engaged on all levels,” says Ralf Lohrmann, who manages Corning’s partnership with Nokia.

“At Corning we are engineers by heart but at Nokia I see a strong industrial design influence, such as the curved 2.5D glass, and that makes it very interesting to work together.”

From Edison to the Internet

Corning’s role in the rapid and successful adoption of glass on touch-enabled display technologies is monumental and impossible to overstate – from the manufacturing process, to the supply chain, all the way through to teaching industrial designers how to use, cut and shape the glass.

To the uninitiated, such as myself, it would be easy to think that Corning had come out of nowhere with their world-conquering Gorilla Glass.

Just like Nokia, Corning is a venerable company of considerable heritage and scope. In fact, Corning is over 160 years old and has been long established as global leaders in glass and material sciences.

Over the years, they have made, and in many cases continue to make, the glass envelope for Thomas Edison’s light bulb, cathode ray tubes for TVs, petri dishes and lab equipment, ceramic substrates for catalytic converters for cars, flat-glass LCD displays and invented the first low-loss optical fibre.

“The heart and soul of why we are successful is that we continue to invest in materials science that makes people’s lives better,” concludes David.