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Source code reveals discarded Nexus 6 fingerprint scanner

According to a change uncovered in the Android source code, the Nexus 6 was designed with a fingerprint scanner in mind, but was removed in late August.

Published onDecember 9, 2014

nexus 6 review aa (11 of 14)

The Nexus 6 packs in some of the best hardware that you can find in a smartphone right now, but it’s missing one component found in some of its competitors – a fingerprint scanner. However, according to changes spotted in the Android Open Source Project, the Nexus 6, or Shamu as it was known during development, had fingerprint scanner support enabled until as late as August 25th 2014.

The commit is unambiguous, “shamu: remove fingerprint support”. You can see the change right here. The code also reveals a fair bit about the fingerprint hardware that was planned for the Nexus 6. The line “system/vendor/lib/hw/ValidityPersistentData:synaptics” suggests that the scanner was supplied by Validity Sensors, which sells touchscreen controllers to a number of smartphone OEMs. Methods including FINGERPRINT_ACQUIRED_TOO_FAST” and “FINGERPRINT_ACQUIRED_TOO_SLOW” hint that the fingerprint scanner would have been of the swipe variety, like the Note 4, rather than stationary touch method, such as the Ascend Mate 7 or latest iPhone.

There is also evidence to suggest that Google was planning to launch a broader fingerprint API along with the Nexus 6, which perhaps would have been another key feature of Android Lollipop. Other files point to implementing a fingerprint lockscreen as a standard setting, allowing for “scanning, enrolling, [and] removing” of a fingerprint to and from the system, and a picture-based authentication method that would indicate which part of the finger would need to be scanned next.

A comment found within the code also mentions a service developed by Google that would be responsible for managing multiple clients with access to the fingerprint API. Potentially, this would allow other apps and services to make use of the fingerprint data, perhaps for secure payments through Google Wallet and the like.

Sadly the big unanswered questions remain, why did Google scrap a fingerprint scanner and will the project reappear in a future version of Android? Most likely, the fingerprint software wasn’t ready yet, but this means that Google’s new API could arrive in an upcoming version of Android, perhaps in a future Lollipop revision, although when is anyone’s guess.

Would you have liked to see the Nexus 6 include a fingerprint scanner and do you see fingerprint app integration as a key feature in the future?

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