An overzealous chipshot sends your Wiimote flying into the TV. Keys jingling in your pocket grind up against your smartphone. A CO2-powered pistol takes aim at your tablet, firing pellet after pellet into the screen.
One of those scenarios isn't as common as the other two, but in each example, the devices are saved thanks to an under-appreciated body armor known as Gorilla Glass, the ultra-thin, super-strong lightweight glass protecting the Samsung Galaxy, Dell Streak, Droid X, and hundreds of other big-name consumer electronics. You might not know its name now—but that could soon change.
Today, its parent company Corning launches its first consumer ad campaign in more than two decades to create awareness for the growing popularity of Gorilla Glass. The glass technology, which was originally developed in the 1960s, has only in recent years found widespread application thanks to the near-ubiquity of smartphones, tablets, MP3 players, and the increasing demand for damage-resistant displays. At under a half-millimeter and with a chemically-strengthened surface, Gorilla Glass has becoming a cornerstone of Corning's business. This year, sales of it are expected to reach $250 million, and could grow to $1 billion by 2011.
Will Gorilla Glass become a household name?
That's the aim of Corning's ad campaign, which touts Gorilla as "tough yet beautiful."
"Designers have come to appreciate Gorilla technology's tactical and aesthetic value," says Dr. Pete Bocko, Corning's East Asia CTO and one of the industry's foremost experts on glass. "They want the strength, but don't want the penalty of weight and thickness."
Perhaps blocking the company's recognition are manufacturers, which appear to want the focus on their products rather than Corning's. A caveat on the company's website highlights this issue:
"Gorilla Glass is currently featured on hundreds of product models, but due to customer agreements, we can only include a sampling here," the site reads. "Your favorite device may include Gorilla Glass, even if you don’t see it listed."
Indeed, Gorilla Glass reportedly protects most of Apple's products—iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches—but it's never been confirmed. When I asked Bocko whether Apple uses Gorilla for its mobile devices, there was a long pause.
"Well, look, I can't comment on specific customers," he said, breaking the silence. "Frankly, I can't keep track of which companies are requesting confidentially."
In the meantime, until those agreements end, Corning has been showing off its technology through stress tests. Ironically, the only way to demonstrate the damage-resistance of Gorilla Glass is to, well, try to damage it. It's become a common practice among consumers, too, who have submitted loads of videos on YouTube testing the technology to its limits.
"There's no such thing as unbreakable glass," warns Bocko. "We're trying to be careful not to give the wrong impression—we're marketing the glass as damage resistant."
I cited how one YouTuber even took a CO2-powered firearm to a Samsung Galaxy Tab.
"Did it survive?" Bocko immediately asked, curious.