Qualcomm has announced that it is working on a new fingerprint scanning technology which will work beneath glass, metal and even underwater. The chip maker made the announcement at MWC 2017 in Shanghai (not to be confused with the February trade show in Barcelona) and believes the tech could reach commercialization by next Summer.
Qualcomm said the new ultrasonic sensors would be compatible with the Snapdragon 200 series upwards, including the recently revealed 630 and 660 chips. “They will work on current generations of Android, as well as future generations,” said Seshu Madhavapeddy, Qualcomm’s product management VP. “There’s really nothing that needs to be upgraded to support this.”
The sensors will not only be capable of scanning a fingerprint, are also said to be able to detect a person’s heartbeat and “blood flow,” said CNET. This, apparently, could provide another layer of security.
Smartphones making use of these sensors stand to house more impressive screen-to-body ratios, a trend which has been prominent in 2017’s flagship phones. On the Galaxy S8, Samsung moved the series’ typical home button/fingerprint sensor found on the front of the handsets to accommodate a larger display area. This was instead placed on the rear (a move which Apple is also rumored to make with its upcoming iPhone 8), but the awkward positioning of it left some frustrated.
Qualcomm’s proposed in-screen solution could solve such problems, as our fingers are intended to interact with the display, rather than specific points on the device rear (though it will probably only work at a specific point in the display, rather than the whole display, also).
It’s not yet clear if this tech would increase or decrease device manufacturing costs overall, however. As demand for fingerprint scanners has grown, their prices have been dropping: fingerprint sensors were estimated to cost around $5 to buy in 2015, and that figure may fall to $2.3 by next year. I would expect an all-new, ultrasonic in-display solution from Qualcomm to cost more than the average fingerprint sensor, and when placing a sensor on the rear of a smartphone is still a viable way to optimize the display area, the cost might outway the benefits.
Qualcomm will reportedly offer test versions of its sensors to manufacturers from October and anticipates that phones featuring the technology would go on sale Summer, 2018. In other words, the likes of the Galaxy S9, LG G7, and HTC U12 are likely to miss out on in-screen scanning, but perhaps the OnePlus 6 and 3rd gen Pixel phones will include it.