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Race to add fingerprint sensors to phone touchscreens may not be won until 2018

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Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
The hope we’ll buy a smartphone with an onscreen fingerprint sensor in 2017 continues to recede. Biometric technology experts CrucialTec now indicates that its own system, which has been in development for five years, won’t be fitted to a device until 2018. CrucialTec supplies most of the world’s top smartphone manufacturers with fingerprint sensors, including Sony, Huawei, LG, Meizu, Oppo, and more. It owns the most patents related to the technology, and is developing what it calls is the most reliable and accurate onscreen sensor possible at the moment.

Charles Ahn, CEO of the South Korean company, said it is, “in talks with the world’s leading display manufacturers to see the first smartphone with a display fingerprint sensor by the first half of next year,” in an interview with the Korea Herald. Ahn points out CrucialTec is, “the only company in the world,” with the knowledge to create high-quality display fingerprint sensors, which are made up of an integrated circuit, chip packaging, a module, firmware, and a special algorithm.

CrucialTec’s sensors are mounted on the display panel, under the glass, and are 90 percent transparent, a figure that’s identical to the screen without the sensor. Three years ago, the company only managed 50 percent transparency. The sensor allows both fingerprint authentication and normal touchscreen use, and Ahn says it’s working on increasing the accuracy of the sensor under glass at the moment, which is the, “only remaining challenge.”

Samsung has already failed to integrate a fingerprint sensor into its 2017 smartphone range, and it’s almost certain the technology won’t make it to the Galaxy Note 8 either. Leaks of Apple’s rumored iPhone 8, or iPhone X, show designs with both a screen-integrated sensor and one on the back of the device, indicating the continuing struggle to perfect the system. Most other companies developing display fingerprint sensors are working on opaque optical or ultrasonic sensors, which are less cost-effective due to a lower yield, and not as accurate, according to CrucialTec.

Have our hopes of a display fingerprint sensor on the next iPhone been crushed? CrucialTec will obviously be keen to talk up its own technology, and dismiss rival firm’s attempts; but there’s no denying its expertise in the industry. However, it has made optimistic predictions before, once saying screen-based fingerprint sensors would be out in 2014. It’s also worth considering Apple has its own team of experts at AuthenTec, the biometric sensor company it acquired in 2012. Apple should never be written off in these situations; but given CrucialTec’s prediction, if Apple does deliver an effective onscreen fingerprint sensor this year, it’s likely to be a highly impressive technical feat.

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