Qualcomm’s Screen-Embedded Fingerprint Sensor Makes Debut at Mobile World Congress

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If the rumors prove true, the next iPhone will feature a Touch ID fingerprint sensor embedded in the device’s “edge-to-edge” display. While no official details have emerged on Apple’s possible use of screen-embedded fingerprint sensor technology, Qualcomm and Chinese smartphone maker Vivo have teamed up to give us a glimpse of how it might work.

At Mobile World Congress 2017 in Shanghai this week, prototype Vivo Xplay smartphones were unveiled sporting Qualcomm’s “Under Display Fingerprint Scanning Solution.” The technology, which relies on ultrasonic imaging, can work with display glass that’s twice as thick as earlier products, and can also detect input such as the user’s heartbeat and blood flow for extra security.

But Qualcomm’s tech, in its current state, isn’t perfect. The fingerprint sensor may be embedded in the glass, but it still only operates in a specific pre-defined recognition area, one that Engadget reports feels smaller than the current sensors found on the latest iPhones and Android devices. The fingerprint recognition speed was also noticeably slower, especially compared to the latest iterations of Touch ID which respond almost too quickly.

vivo screen embedded fingerprint sensor

Vivo told reporters at the show that these issues were simply a financial limitation, and that it could expand the fingerprint recognition area and responsiveness, but only at significantly higher costs that aren’t suitable for the current smartphone market. As the technology advances and costs come down, compromises could be made to improve the experience, such as expanding the recognition area to cover the lower half of the screen instead of the entire display.

Apple’s Own Embedded Fingerprint Sensor Ambitions

Apple already has several patents related to screen-embedded fingerprint sensors, and the company’s own internal development teams may have solved some of the drawbacks exhibited by Vivo’s and Qualcomm’s efforts. Apple’s ongoing legal dispute with Qualcomm makes it unlikely that the two companies would reach an agreement to use Qualcomm’s technology in the next iPhone.

With Qualcomm’s tech not likely to appear in shipping devices until at least early next year, Apple’s “iPhone 8” may end up being the first to market with mass screen-embedded fingerprint sensors, even if it wasn’t the first to publicly tout the feature.

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