It seems like only yesterday that Apple’s launch of its Touch ID fingerprint biometrics system was being met by mainstream media skepticism and high profile presentation attacks. But in the few short years that followed Apple’s bid on biometrics, the mobile fingerprint sensor has become almost ubiquitous. Indeed, it is almost more notable now when a smartphone ships without an embedded touch sensor, and much of the mobile biometrics market excitement has shifted to what companies are supplying the tech, than which OEMs have embraced it.
Of course, the ubiquity of fingerprint biometrics on smartphones is not the end of the line for sensor manufacturers and their algorithm software providers when it comes to mobile devices. Like the handsets that house them, biometric sensors designed for mobile applications are subject to the demands of consumer technology trends and therefore are in a perpetual state of evolution.
For the past two years there has been a prominent trend in reducing the number of buttons on a mobile handset and maximizing the interactive display area. This trend has had its effect on sensor integrations and designs—an impact we have seen spark innovation in the consumer biometric arena. Where as Apple and Samsung began pioneering biometrics in the home button, the demand for a clean screen quickly saw touch sensors embedded into the back of handsets. Popular phones like the Nexus 6P, the LG G5, and Google’s Pixel all have rear-mounted sensors, keeping front-facing realestate clear for screenspace. But the evolution doesn’t end there either: this year the demand for button-free smartphones has led to the first in-display fingerprint sensors to be launched in the market.
Late in 2015 and early this year companies began to announce sensors built with the expressed purpose of in-display integrations. The past few months have since seen multiple launches of under-glass fingerprint sensors on big name smartphones, most recently the Mate 9 Pro and its luxury-class sibling the Mate 9 Porsche Design from Huawei. The new wave of phones are aesthetically sleek and can still offer the fingerprint authentication features demanded by consumers the world over. It takes the concept of low-friction to the next logical step: physically smooth deployments that compliment slick and speedy biometric access control.
The next step in fingerprint biometrics on smartphones, beyond the underglass deployments of the present, seems obvious. Given the trend toward buttonless devices, and taking into account recently filed patents by the likes of Apple, it appears that dynamically fingerprint sensing displays that can authenticate users no matter where they touch a screen are not too far off. Of course, it’s too early to speculate on what future generations of biometrics-enabled smartphones will have to offer, but it is fair to say that the market will continue to evolve at the speed of consumers’ appetite for convenience.
November 24, 2016 – by Peter B. Counter