Year in Review: 2017 Sees Prelude to Biometric Smart Cards’ Big Show

There have been some splashy developments in the biometrics industry this year, but one of the biggest trends of 2017 has been taking shape under the radar. Biometric smart cards haven’t hit the market yet, and the technology has reached a relatively small proportion of end users. Nevertheless, there has been a frenzy of activity that appears to be heading toward an imminent tipping point.

Early Buzz, Then a Bombshell

Year in Review: 2017 Sees Prelude to Biometric Smart Cards' Big ShowThere was an early buzz coming into the year in the wake of developments like new FIDO specifications concerning smart cards at the end of 2016, and already in February IDEX had announced a new collaboration with Italy-based Card Tech on a biometric card project. In April, Zwipe reported growing interest in the technology from industry players at the Card Manufacturers Association Expo.

Immediately after that came the bombshell news that Mastercard had successfully trialed biometric payment cards in South Africa in collaboration with Barclays and Absa Bank. The involvement of these big names in this emerging industry, and the advancement of Mastercard’s position, sent a signal to the industry that something big was underway. IDEX and IDEMIA (in the form of Safran Identity & Security at that time) soon revealed their involvement in the project, further compounding its scope; and in August IDEX announced that the first European trial of Mastercard’s technology had produced “extremely positive customer feedback”.

The Mobile Factor

Year in Review: 2017 Sees Prelude to Biometric Smart Cards' Big ShowMeanwhile, market pressures in the mobile sector were helping to drive the emergence of the biometric smart card market. While biometrics experts like Fingerprint Cards and Precise Biometrics were already finding their footing in the smart card market earlier in the year, increasing competition and decreasing margins in their mobile businesses have pushed them and others to intensify their efforts in smart cards, with Fingerprint Cards, for example, proceeding to rearrange its leadership structure to sharpen its focus on smart cards, and affiliating itself with two important industry alliances in the payment card industry at the end of summer.

The mobile market has been influential in more oblique ways, too. As fingerprint sensors have proliferated across smartphones and other consumer tech devices over the last couple of years, the mass market has been primed for extensions of such biometric technology into new areas. It may also have helped to raise consumers’ expectations when it comes to digital security, with the financial services industry racing to keep pace; and they’re only going to raise higher with innovations like the Face ID system of the iPhone X.

The Boiling Point

Year in Review: 2017 Sees Prelude to Biometric Smart Cards' Big ShowAll of this has led to a number of recent developments that point to an imminent explosion in biometric smart cards, and perhaps especially biometric payment cards. IDEX announced that it had started sampling smart card sensors with multiple card integrators at the end of September; at the start of October, Zwipe announced the first shipment of its biometric smart card tech, with Fingerprint Cards sensors playing a vital role; in November, Feitian announced a biometric smart card featuring IDEX technology; and at the end of the month NEXT proclaimed that its technology is now being used in the world’s first ISO 17839-compliant flexible biometric smart card.

Meanwhile, another bombshell might be on the way from Mastercard, with IDEX asserting in a recent update for investors that the financial services giant is aiming for a commercial rollout of biometric payment cards in early 2018. It all suggests that 2017 has served us an exciting prelude for the biometric smart cards market, and next year the big show will begin.