Smartphone Fingerprint Sensors Are Everywhere – So What’s Next?

Fingerprint sensors are now widespread across a range of mobile devices, and the technology that was cutting-edge only a year or two ago is now considered standard fare. Meanwhile, new biometric modalities are starting to come to the fore, with Samsung looking to pioneer iris and facial recognition in its newest devices. But all that doesn’t mean mobile fingerprint sensor innovation is dead in its tracks. So what’s next?

Smartphone Fingerprint Sensors Are Everywhere – So What's Next?

One key area that is still being explored is liveness detection. While a great many mobile devices feature fingerprint sensors, some are more susceptible to fake fingerprints than others, and there’s a growing awareness of the need to ensure that false fingerprint credentials can’t be used to gain access to such devices. That’s why Precise Biometrics recently acquired liveness detection specialist NexID, and why in its newly published Annual Report it said the acquisition “reinforces Precise Biometrics’ competitive strength”.

Liveness isn’t the only issue, though. A joint team of researchers from NYU and MSU recently suggested that a synthetic fingerprint featuring common biometric characteristics could be used to fool smartphone sensors at a rate considerably greater than chance, thanks largely to mobile sensors’ heavy reliance on partial, rather than full, fingerprints. While that points to the need for multimodal and multi-factor authentication, it also highlights how more robust fingerprint recognition, perhaps with the aid of 3D imaging, can further enhance the appeal of mobile fingerprint scanning.

The biggest question about what’s next for mobile fingerprint sensors, however, may be where to put them. Mobile makers are increasingly desperate to free up space on the front of their devices so that they can implement full-size displays, and in many cases that means getting fingerprint sensors out of the way. Samsung, for example, put the fingerprint sensor of its new Galaxy S8 device on its backside, perhaps aiming to focus on the biometric authentication enabled by the smartphone’s facial and iris recognition.

But other companies are looking to put the fingerprint sensor into the display itself. At this year’s Mobile World Congress, Goodix announced the world’s first in-display fingerprint sensor, though it hasn’t yet been deployed in a smartphone; and CrucialTec just announced that it has won a patent for a fingerprint sensor that it says can easily and cheaply be embedded into a smartphone display without much disruption to existing production processes. Meanwhile, Apple is thought to be working hard to bring its Touch ID fingerprint sensor system into the display of the iPhone 8, a goal that is so far proving to be a major hurdle in the production process, according to a recent report.

Apple’s difficulty aside, this seems to be the future of mobile fingerprint scanning. The technology is standard issue; now it needs to get more discerning, more accurate, and into the screen.

April 13, 2017 – by Alex Perala