Acoustic Imaging and iPhone 8: Can You Hear My Fingerprint?

Apple acoustic imaging patent for the iPhone

We have even more fuel for the fire of the iPhone 8 rumor mill, this time from an Apple patent filing for acoustic imaging. This could easily go along with speculation we’ve heard of Apple ditching the Home Button in the next-generation iPhone. “Can you hear me now” might take on a whole new meaning, as Apple seems to be exploring technology that can authenticate a fingerprint using sound waves. Read on for the full details.

Apple acoustic imaging patent for the iPhone

Cupertino’s research into acoustic imaging systems

In its recent patent filing (first noted by AppleInsider) for an “acoustic imaging system architecture,” Apple appears to be investigating a way to replace the traditional capacitive fingerprint sensor with an array of acoustic transducers.

According to the application, Apple could place the transducers beneath the display or its protective housing. The sound pulses would pass through the display glass and bounce off the ridges in your fingerprint. The filing suggests Apple will generate a digital map of a fingerprint from how sound waves bounce off it.

The case for no more Home Button

Because of the way it’s designed, Apple can install this acoustic system almost anywhere in your iPhone. Engineers might even place it directly beneath the display. Other possibilities include around the screen’s perimeter or bezel, or even the rear chassis of the device. This way, Apple could ditch the Home Button and still use fingerprint technology. If the transducers are placed on the rear chassis, it could use the entire handprint.

Transducer placement for an acoustic imaging system architecture
With acoustic imaging system architecture, the sound transducers could be placed beneath the touch screen display. (Image Credit: USPTO)

Other uses for acoustic imaging

Also, It’s possible that the acoustic imaging system could replace the proximity sensor in the iPhone. Apple could configure the acoustic imaging system to “listen” for certain body parts. For example, it could detect your ear or a skin pattern. That way, the iPhone would sense how and where you held the device, turning the screen off when it was up to your ear.

The evolution of technology marches on

Apple first filed the patent application in August 2016. We don’t know yet, obviously, whether Apple plans to use this acoustic imaging technology in the upcoming iPhone 8.

Well-regarded KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has predicted that Cupertino will move away from existing Touch ID technology. Mr. Kuo has suggested a dual or two-step biometric solution that utilizes a fingerprint reader and facial recognition software.

Our own Jeff Gamet suspects Apple will use this technology for facial and iris scanning. This latest patent filing makes it seem possible that the fingerprint reader will use sound waves instead of a capacitive touch sensor.

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