Synaptics: We Can Do iPhone-like Fingerprint Sensors, But Better

The input provider says iPhone-like fingerprint sensors can be built directly behind the glass of Android and Windows phones.

By Mark Hachman
Tue, February 18, 2014

PC World — Synaptics executives say that they plan to build the fingerprint sensors that made Apple's latest iPhones famous directly behind the glass of Android and Windows smartphones, removing the need for a dedicated hardware button.

In October, Synaptics acquired fingerprint ID provider Validity for $255 million, giving it an entree into the fingerprint identification market that had, for years, languished in relative obscurity. With the iPhone 5 that Apple launched in September, however, biometric sensing to unlock the phone via fingerprint suddenly became the hot new thing.

In fact, one report released Tuesday claims that the Samsung Galaxy S5, expected to be launched in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress, will include an Apple-like fingerprint sensor.

Apple internally developed its fingerprint-sensing technology, based on work done by Apple engineer Wayne Westerman and Fingerworks, which Apple acquired in 2005, according to Macrumors. But it placed the sensor behind the home button, apparently both for convenience and for security, so that the "elements of the fingerprint recognition sensor are not immediately visible to the user," according to a

What Validity plans to offer is a clear sensor that can be placed directly under the LCD glass. Instead of actually creating a dedicated hardware button, an operating system could simply draw a box on the screen for a user to touch with his finger or thumb, according to Andrew Hsu, director of concept prototyping at Synaptics. (A year ago, at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, a Samsung Android phone was demonstrated which included a fingerprint sensor underneath its screen. Biometric Update reported. Users could log in with a simple swipe of their finger.)

According to Hsu, Synaptics plans to be the independent supplier of fingerprint recognition technology to the remainder of the industry, including vendors of Android and Windows phones. Synaptics first launched what we now call touchpads in 1995, and its capacitive touchpad technology is now used by most notebook PC manufacturers.A

"The motivation to acquire Validity was that they were a very complementary fit with Synaptics," Hsu said. "Their underlying sensor technology is actually capacitive-based as well, and we believe their approach has benefits that, in the long run, could outshine even Apple's implementation.

"The key one being is that the sensor is not on the chip itself," Hsu added. "So what that means is that there's a separate printed circuit, that has the sensors, that then run into a chip. There's two advantages of doing that. The first is just chip size: You can get a bigger sensor without necessarily growing your chip. With a chip-based sensor, the electrodes are on top of the chip, so to get a bigger electrode array, you've got to have a bigger chip."

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