iPhone, Android phone designs could be revamped by new fingerprint scanner

Smartphones launched as soon as next year could feature a bezel-free design thanks to new fingerprint scanning technology announced by Qualcomm.

The US chipmaker has long supplied components to major phone makers like Apple and Samsung, and is now planning to offer a further boon to the mobile industry. Qualcomm has developed a new fingerprint scanner that can work through glass and metal, making it possible to embed a fingerprint sensor underneath a display.

Compare that to the iPhone 7, for instance, whereby the Touch ID fingerprint scanner is held in a special module built onto the bezel of the phone, well below the handset’s actual display.

The problem with existing fingerprint scanners is that they require a bezel or other surface to mounted on so that clear access can be provided for a fingertip i.e. not behind a display. Samsung chose to go for a bezel-free design with the new Galaxy S8, and was thus forced to move the fingerprint scanner to the back of the phone. This resulted in awkward placement near the camera, leading the fingerprint scanner to become one of the only Galaxy S8 design flaws.

Samsung Galaxy S8 infinity screenSamsung Galaxy S8

If Qualcomm’s new fingerprint technology works, it will be possible for phone makers to use a design similar to the Galaxy S8, without having to shift the fingerprint sensor onto the back of the phone. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that any phone makers will actually take up the design. We’d be surprised however, given that many companies have been long-standing Qualcomm customers, including Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC, and Sony.

“We are excited to announce Qualcomm Fingerprint Sensors because they can be designed to support sleeker, cutting-edge form factors, unique mobile authentication experiences, and enhanced security authentication,” said Seshu Madhavapeddy, vice president, product management, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. “This provides OEMs and operators with the ability to offer truly distinct, differentiated devices with added value on truly groundbreaking new devices.”

Interestingly, rumour has it that Apple is planning to include such a design with the iPhone 8, and the suggestion is that the fingerprint scanner will remain on the front of the phone beneath the display. This implies that Apple itself has found a way to crack the fingerprint-display dilemma too, although we’ll have to wait for an official announcement before we know for sure.

In any case, Qualcomm’s fingerprint sensors won’t be arriving on phones any time soon. Qualcomm is making the glass- and metal-friendly sensors available to manufacturers this month, while the display-friendly sensor won’t be available for phone makers until the fourth quarter of 2017. Qualcomm also says that it doesn’t expect handsets featuring the technology until the first half of 2018.

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Would you prefer a fingerprint scanner to be embedded beneath a display? Let us know in the comments.