Tokyo-based Asahi Glass Company just took a lucrative part of its business to the next level.
AGC makes glass for cars, buildings and electronic displays – including the touchscreen for Apple’s (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPad 2.
This touchscreen – like all those for smartphones and tablets – is made up of two layers: A hard, outer shell and a glass substrate layer underneath. This substrate material is embedded with electrodes that read and respond to users’ commands.
And it’s this substrate layer that has kicked AGC’s prospects higher.
You see, the company already has the outer touchscreen layer covered. Back in January, it announced its new scratchproof glass, Dragontrail, which looks like a solid competitor to Corning’s (NYSE: GLW) Gorilla Glass.
But on April 21, AGC announced that it’s also developed the world’s thinnest substrate for touchscreens. And it expects a serious sales boost as a result…
“Less Marilyn Monroe… More Kate Moss”
Without going into the complex technological process, AGC basically used a float process (floating glass over molten metal) to create a soda-lime substrate, which is a mere 0.28 mm thick.
That’s about the same thickness as three pieces of standard printer paper and is also 15% thinner and lighter than the current slimmest screen on the market (0.33mm).
I know… a difference of 0.05 mm might not sound like a lot. But in today’s high-tech world, where thin is definitely in, every millimeter counts.
According to Annabelle Hsu, an IDC display panel analyst, mobile device users favor anything that’s thinner and lighter. But you don’t need IDC to tell you that – the proof is everywhere. For example…
- People went nuts when Apple launched the iPad 2, now 4.6 mm skinnier than the original.
- Samsung’s new advertisement for its Galaxy S II smartphone manages to only highlight the phone’s slim form factor.
- LG (NYSE: LPL) showed off an unthinkable 2.3 mm LCD TV at the Consumer Electronics Show this year. (My TV is only two years old, but I can’t even look at it now without feeling bitter!)
I think Engadget says it best: “Most users are looking for a device that’s less Marilyn Monroe and more Kate Moss.”
And despite four of AGC’s factories suffering damage from the earthquake, we shouldn’t have to wait long to see the results of AGC’s new, ultra-thin touchscreen glass in smartphones and tablets. Production is set to roll imminently.
Massive Potential… With One Caveat
It’s important to keep in mind what my colleague, Louis Basenese, noted recently: That with the current situation for Japanese stocks and the yen, be sure to hedge your exposure.
That’s certainly true for AGC. While the company’s last restoration announcement noted that production has improved, none of the factories are fully operational yet, and AGC hasn’t released an estimated cost of the damages from the quake.
With that said, though, AGC forecasts sales in its electronics and specialty glass segments to generate $1.2 billion by 2013. And considering the attention this new touchscreen is likely to garner from tablet and smartphone makers, the company is certainly worth monitoring.