Fingerprint sensors under the display
Synaptics, the company responsible for handling the touch input on millions of laptop trackpads and smartphone screens, has announced this week that it’s entered mass production with its first optical in-display fingerprint sensors. Titled Clear ID, these are expected to work exactly like the home button fingerprint sensors you might have known on Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S phones before this year’s Galaxy S8 and on Apple’s iPhones before the latest iPhone X. Only they’ll be more magical because you’ll be able to authenticate by pressing on the actual display part of the touchscreen.
It was exactly a year ago today that Synaptics first announced its FS9100 optical fingerprint sensor “family.” At the time, it was merely a technological breakthrough — more a statement of intent than a forthcoming real-world product — and subsequent events have shown that there were issues with the implementation of that tech, which reportedly forced Samsung into a last-minute change with its flagship Galaxy smartphone. Samsung wanted to have a bezel-free front on its phones without losing the front-facing biometric ID function, however, the integration of the optical fingerprint reader didn’t go to plan and Samsung had to put in an awkwardly-placed fingerprint sensor on the rear of its 2017 flagships.
Today’s FS9500 Clear ID, on the other hand, is going into full production with what Synaptics describes as “a top five OEM,” meaning it’s either Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Oppo / Vivo, or Xiaomi. Synaptics’ prior history of working with Samsung and the specific call out of “OLED infinity displays” in Synaptics’ press release (Samsung calls its bezel-less Galaxy S8 and Note 8 screens “infinity displays”) would suggest the two companies might once again be working on solving the seemingly intractable issues of 2017. Then again, Samsung was reported to be moving away from Synaptics this summer, so nothing can be known for sure. Xiaomi is certainly a good candidate to be the mysterious OEM partner, given how much it loves to embrace new tech early and its history of bezel-less flagships with the Mi Mix line.
Whichever company might be partnering with Synaptics now, it’s almost certain that more will follow as 2018 goes along. There’s a definite futuristic quality to being able to authenticate directly through the display, and UI designers would also find it easier to explain the function to neophyte users — so the demand and appreciation for this kind of technology are already out there. It was supposed to be one of the highlight features of 2017 flagships, but now that the kinks seem to have been ironed out, the promise is shaping up to finally come to fruition next year.
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