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Through The Gateway: Indium – Taking Virtual Reality Mainstream?

Here we [Pokémon] go again.  It’s only been a couple of weeks, and we find another reason to talk about an augmented reality game that has taken the world by storm. But there’s a good reason: Pokémon Go may be giving us a glimpse into our future, or more precisely, the future of smartphone technology.  And, you guessed it … it’s a future that once again involves a rare tech metal that is not mined in its own right, but supply of which originates as a co-product of processing Gateway metals, among them chiefly Zinc and Tin – Indium.

For months, the rumor mill has been grinding regarding the new features of the iPhone 7.  One such rumor surfaced last week. Writing for ZDNet, Jason Perlow wondered whether it might be possible “that the iPhone 7 isn’t just a smartphone, but part of an integrated system that is something else entirely?”  The integrated system he alludes to is virtual reality, and he is basing his speculation on the fact that one of the primary manufacturers of the iPhone, FoxConn, has just bought Sharp, which a few years ago developed displays using IGZO (Indium, Gallium, Zinc Oxide) semiconductors – which “have significant technology benefits (…), would mean increased luminosity, higher reaction speed and increased battery efficiency.” 

Coupled with some of the other rumored features, which include twin cameras, a new docking connector and stereo speakers, he says using IGZO displays could well turn the iPhone 7 Pro into “the brains of a virtual reality/augmented reality headset” that “performs as a smartphone by day, but snaps into a head-mounted cradle at night,” allowing for a headset to be able to be used for augmented reality applications, such as a true-AR version of Pokémon Go.” In other words, the use of Indium could help take virtual reality technology to go mainstream.

This scenario may or may not turn out to be true, but the fact of the matter is tech metals like Indium make developments like these possible.  New applications like IGZO will likely increase demand for Indium, which is already a sought after tech metal because of its application in CIGS (Copper, Indium, Gallium, Selenide) solar panels, as well as in more conventional things alloys and solders, compounds, and electrical components.

Meanwhile, the United is 100 percent import-dependent for the Indium consumed domestically.  Supplier nations include trade partners like Canada, and Belgium, but also China – which, according to the USGS, produces nearly half of the world’s indium — once more underscoring the complex nature of the geopolitics of mineral resource supply.