New Apple patent may mean OLED fingerprint biometrics for iPhones, laptops

Apple Inc. had fingerprint readers in its iPhones before designers moved to facial recognition technology in the iPhone X for biometric security. But it seems Apple designers today are rejecting an either/or option in future phones.

In fact, new Apple patent activity and industry speculation indicates that 2021 iPhones will employ both biometric strategies in the form of in-screen fingerprint readers and in-screen face imagers on the same device. The two approaches could be combined to provide another layer of security.

And, according to one report, the technology behind Apple’s new in-screen fingerprint biometrics could translate a fingertip hovering over the screen into a gestural command. Optical touch sensors typically read fingerprints pressed against a screen.

A bit more speculative are reports that these technologies and features could show up in future desktop and laptop models.

The publication AppleInsider, which closely monitors patent applications and grants by Apple, has reported that U.S. Patent No. 10,541,280 protects a special organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, touch screen capable of sensing touch and authenticating a user’s identity using the active area of a screen.

Often-quoted Apple analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo, said last summer that any in-screen print-reading iPhone would have to wait until 2021. Researchers need to first make sensor modules thinner and less power-hungry, and to increase the production yields of the lamination process.

Apple’s previous fingerprint-reading feature is called Touch ID, and it uses capacitive technology. Users place a fingertip on the faux button on the bottom of all iPhone models from version 5s to X. Facial recognition, considered technology catnip for early adopters, became the standard.

And while a face reader is easier (and sexier) than Touch ID, the latter technology remains a favorite for some buyers who feel it is faster than Face ID and more reliable. Some have privacy concerns.

The company’s current face-reading technique is called Face ID. Face ID relies on a camera, sensors and a projector, all located in the notch at the top of newer models, not within the view screen itself.

Apple’s new patent describes how “an approximate touch location can be determined by capacitive touch sensors, and one or more finer details can be resolved by optical touch sensors.”

The optical sensors would also be able to read light off objects, as well, enabling screens to interpret objects including fingertips held over sensors.

A December report out of Taiwan indicated that Apple executives were meeting with one of their suppliers about using ultrasonic sensors from component-maker Qualcomm to read fingerprints.

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