A newly discovered Apple patent reveals how the iPhone’s redesigned Home button will work as a fingerprint scanner.
It’s widely rumored the iPhone 5S will include a fingerprint scanner built into the Home button. But putting a fingerprint scanner into the Home button presents Apple with a problem. The Home button is used as the primary navigation device. Pressing the Home button quits apps and returns the user to the Home screen. If the fingerprint Home button is used as an authentication device, to conduct a secure online purchase say, the user needs to avoid accidentally pressing it. The last thing they want is to quit the browser and be returned to the Home screen.
The solution is a capacitive ring built around the Home button that detects the user’s finger without a button press.
A recent European patent, discovered by Patently Apple, reveals that Apple engineers have patented a Home button with a sensor ring around it. It closely resembles a purported image of iPhone 5S packaging that leaked out of China last week.
Like the iPhone’s touchscreen, the metal ring around the button is capacitive. It detects changes in electrical charge when a finger, which is electrically conductive, brushes against it. When the user’s finger is held over the button, it triggers a fingerprint scan without actually pressing the button. What looks like a metal ring around the Home button can be seen in the image above.
As well as the capacitive ring, the European patent describes a Home button that is bristling with other sensors, including NFC and optical input/output sensors that may enable next-generation, super-fast optical docking stations.
The patent describes built-in Near Field Circuit (NFC) capabilities, a wireless technology used for wireless point-of-sale purchases and electronic locks.
A hybrid Home button with NFC could be used for a wide variety of purposes, including an alternative to the traditional username/password process.
It could be used for secure data transfers between an iPhone/iPad and other equipment like a computer. It could be used for authentication during point-of-sale purchases or financial transactions, or as a badge reader for accessing homes, offices, hotel rooms and even a car.
The patent says the hybrid fingerprint/NFC button could be built into a wide range of electronic devices, from MacBooks and iPads, as well as wearable computers like pendants or wristwatch-like devices. It could also be used in headphones, television sets and television remotes.
Next-Gen Docking System
The patent also outlines a next-generation docking system that dispenses with Lightning or USB cables in favor of a wireless system using NFC and/or optical sensors.
The patent describes a wires-free docking system that uses optical sensors built into the Home Button to communicate with the dock. The dock could be built into an Apple TV, car infotainment system or point-of-sale system. The iPhone can be docked vertically or horizontally. The new Home button lines up with wireless/optical sensors built into the dock. There’s no need for traditional connectors. There’s no mention of charging the device.
This patent hints at what Apple might be up to with the iPhone 5S, but not everything described by the patent should be associated with the 5S specifically. Apple will likely focus on one or two implementations of a capacitive home button at first and iterate with future hardware releases. It seems likely, at least initially, that the 5S will use a scanner to unlock the device and possibly process iTunes payments.
The fingerprint/NFC Home button patent was published in Europe earlier this year. The inventors are Apple engineers, and it compliments a long string of fingerprint/NFC/security patents filed by Apple going back five years.
- Source Patently Apple