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Phones have had fingerprint readers for years, but only when Apple implemented Touch ID did the feature become attractive to consumers. Now everyone is rushing to get similar technology implemented on their devices. Samsung has tried to match Apple with the clunky swipe reader on the Galaxy S5, but it’s only a matter of time before the competition catches up to Touch ID. In the meantime, Apple is continuing to think about the next step in fingerprint analysis on phones, and it might come by way of a new touchscreen.
Apple made Touch ID happen by acquiring AuthenTec a few years ago. That company had spent years developing the touch-based technology used in the last several iDevices, but it also did a ton of research on integrating fingerprint scanners into a touchscreen. This is the technology that just popped up in a new patent filing from Apple. It’s called “Fingerprint Sensor in an Electronic Device,” and it details how to build a screen that can read fingerprints.
The problem with adding fingerprint scanners to touchscreens is that the additional layers in the screen stack tend to degrade image quality. Apple’s solution to this, according to the patent, is to add the scanner at the bottom of the stack as an integrated circuit, possibly connected to a sensor near the surface composed of a transparent material like indium tin oxide. This could be restricted to a certain area of the screen, or an entire panel in the case of an iPad. You could conceivably use your palm print to unlock something, which would be neat, but not very convenient.
Getting fingerprint scanning technology into the screen would make a huge amount of sense when you think about it. You already have to touch the screen to unlock your device or input a password, so why not get the scanning done at the same time? It’s much less awkward than touching or swiping a sensor to verify your identity before interacting with the screen.
This patent was filed last year, but there’s no guarantee Apple will make use of the technology any time soon. Considering all the possible uses for fingerprint scanning in a touchscreen, I’m sure someone will do it at some point. Apple is in a better position than most to make it happen.