Why are under-display fingerprint sensors the next goal in biometrics?

July 17, 2017 - 

This is a guest post by Kayla Matthews, a biometrics and technology writer.

The race to create an effective under-display fingerprint sensor that can also be economically mass-produced is on. But what’s the big deal? Why do so many companies in the biometrics industry want to get in on this new technology?

Screens Take Over

Smartphone fingerprint scanners that can be used to verify identity and unlock a phone, authorize a purchase or start a download are now common. However, these buttons look much like push-button home screens and require a dedicated place on the device.

The recent mobile phone industry trend of making screens as large as possible, often taking up almost the entire front side of the device, has made this impossible. It has forced manufacturers to place the scanners either on the back of the phone or under the display.

While placing the scanner on the back of the phone is doable, it’s not exactly the most convenient for consumers. Keeping it on the front of the phone makes it easier to access. It also makes it invisible, which can be aesthetically pleasing and makes more room for the screen.

Apple and Samsung have said they’re working to use this new technology in future models — hence, the race to create an under-display fingerprint scanner.

Other Potential Uses

Under-display scanners could also have uses in other industries. Integrating the technology could allow devices to be smaller, which could lower costs and allow for easier transport. It could also make devices sleeker as well as easier and quicker to use.

In the security sector, the scanners would quickly be able to verify identities and make devices more compact. The technology might also be used in smart homes. Digital locks on front doors could use the technology to make a biometric scanner, display screen and security camera all work on one screen.

As hospitals seek to improve patient experiences and reduce cost, they may also choose to use the technology to verify the identity of patients and allow medical personnel access to computer systems and medical devices.

Businesses may use it for similar purposes, such as controlling access to certain computers with a scanner right under the display or to restrict access to certain areas of a building.

The First Demo

As Apple and Samsung compete to be the first to mass-produce a workable under-display scanner, a Chinese company called Vivo along with California-based Qualcomm recently demoed one at the Mobile World Congress in Shanghai.

Vivo Under Display, as the solution is called, works from under glass, an Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) screen and even aluminum. Specifically, it works from under OLED displays as thick as 1.2 millimeters (mm), 0.8mm of glass or 0.65mm of aluminum. Water, grease and ambient light also aren’t a problem for the scanner, the company says, unlike many of the fingerprint readers on smartphones today.

Although the scanner’s ability to penetrate so much OLED, glass and aluminum is a new development, the technology it uses to operate isn’t. The sensor is ultrasonic, so it uses ultrasonic sound waves that enter the skin and create a 3D image of the fingerprint.

The one reported downside of Vivo’s scanner is that it’s a bit slower than the fingerprint scanners in use on current smartphone models. It’s still fast enough to be usable and relatively convenient, though.

The Future of Under-Display

Developing Vivo Under Display was an impressive feat, and the demo was a good sign for the industry’s hopes of creating a workable under-display scanner. Still, no has yet succeeded in producing it large scale — another significant challenge.

Although Apple is planning to use an under-display scanner in the iPhone 8, it doesn’t seem like the company will use Vivo’s technology. Apple is more likely to build their own scanner, which will probably be one of the defining characteristics of its next model.

It doesn’t appear that Samsung will work with Vivo either, and there has been some uncertainty about whether Samsung’s next model will incorporate an under-display scanner. Samsung is, though reportedly working on such a scanner with Synaptics, a company that builds a variety of physical user interfaces.

Both Apple and Samsung seem to be working toward integrating under-display sensors into their products as we speak. Recent patents and comments from experts at Apple suggest that under-display sensors are a goal of future iPhones, and rumors from Samsung insiders point to possible technological issues that still need to be worked out regarding the new sensors.

Between the Vivo Under Display and the rumors surrounding Apple and Samsung, there’s a strong indication that under-display fingerprint scanners will become reality for smartphone users in the near future.

DISCLAIMER: BiometricUpdate.com blogs are submitted content. The views expressed in this blog are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BiometricUpdate.com.

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About Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews is a biometrics and technology writer who contributes to VentureBeat, VICE, MakeUseOf and The Week. To read more posts from Kayla, you can follow her blog Productivity Bytes.