Apple is reportedly two years ahead of its Android rivals when it comes to the technology behind Face ID, and that’s left the competition scrabbling around trying to find an alternative.
The solution they’re exploring? Fingerprint sensors embedded in smartphone displays, a.k.a. the biometric security system that Apple was reportedly investigating before it turned its attentions to face recognition.
According to a new report, Android vendors such as Huawei are rushing to use fingerprint-scanning smartphone displays on the basis that they are cheaper to implement than 3D sensing technology. (It probably doesn’t help that Apple has bought up all the necessary 3D sensing components, either.)
Huawei’s Mate 11 flagship smartphone model will supposedly incorporate an ultrasonic fingerprint sensing solution developed by Qualcomm. Other Android-based smartphones will follow suit in 2019, sources in the supply chain say.
While Qualcomm’s fingerprint sensors are 3x more expensive than traditional fingerprint sensors like Touch ID, they can function through 800-micron cover glass, and also work when wet or greasy. For manufacturers that can’t charge an iPhone-like premium for their handsets, this technology offers a way to both be seen as innovative, but without having to shell out prohibitively huge amounts of cash — or compete with Apple for parts.
The challenges of under-glass fingerprint sensors
Qualcomm debuted its under-glass fingerprint sensor at the Mobile World Congress Shanghai 2017 conference, at the time raising hopes that Apple may also be able to debut similar technology in its next-gen iPhone.
However, in the aftermath of the demo, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo observed that Qualcomm’s technology is still “not perfect,” and pointed out various “technological challenges to be addressed” — including slow reaction times, the requirement of thinner-than-usual cover glass, and more.
Despite filing its own patents relating to this technology, Apple ultimately moved in another direction and embraced Face ID instead. The facial recognition technology is now expected to be used for all three of Apple’s 2018-era iPhones.