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Synaptics’ new fingerprint sensors come in all shapes and sizes

Why it matters to you

Synaptics has a new line of fingerprint sensors, and chances are you'll see them in a future smartphone.

The name Synaptics may not ring a bell, but you’ve likely encountered the San Jose, California-based company’s products before. The firm is responsible for some of the more novel touch-sensitive technologies around, including a capacitive spacebar with pinch-to-zoom and a fingerprint sensor that works with wet fingers. The company’s latest creation — the FS4600  — is in keeping with that philosophy of innovation.

The FS4600 is a versatile lineup of fingerprint sensors. The new sensors come in square, round, pill, and slim rectangular shapes that fit on the front, back, and side of devices. On Android devices, up to two soft buttons can be used as navigation keys, and a “fast swipe” navigation feature is supported natively. Force measurement — akin to Apple’s 3D Touch — enables “consumer-specific applications.” And an encrypted fingerprint sensor offers super-secure 256-bit AES encryption with TLS 1.2.

The fingerprint sensors can be coated with polymers, ceramics, or glass, depending on the manufacturer’s preferences.

“The FS4600 family is a terrific extension to our industry-leading Natural ID portfolio, offering compelling, feature-rich capabilities and performance to a broader [market],” Anthony Gioeli, vice president of marketing at Synaptics’ biometrics product division, said in a press release.

It comes on the heels of the firm’s other new flagship, the FS9100, which can scan fingerprints through glass up to 1mm. Notably, Apple is rumored to be working on a fingerprint sensor that would work inside a phone’s display.

But despite all the security built into Synaptics’ latest sensors, they still suffer from a perennial problem: Protection against forgery. Researchers at Michigan State University were able to demonstrate how an inkjet printer with silver conductive ink can fool most off-the-shelf fingerprint sensors, and other groups have successfully bypassed scanners using 2.5D images made with latex milk and white wood glue.

Making matters worse is the relative ease with which fingerprints can be lifted off of a device. Germany’s Chaos Computer Club, for example, was able to extract fingerprints off of the iPhone’s glass surface by taking high-resolution pictures.

But there may be solutions on the horizon. Scientists at the Langevin Institute in Paris recently developed a scanner capable of discerning fake fingerprints from real ones by capturing the “inside” of a person’s finger. In a similar vein, Qualcomm’s Sense ID uses ultrasound to penetrate the outer layers of your skin to see inside the ridges and special characteristics that make up your fingerprint, and detect whether the fingerprint is attached to a living human by checking blood flow.