Fingerprint scanners have been part of smartphones for just a short period of time, but it seems that the industry has taken to them in a big way. It can feel like the vast majority of new handsets – particularly those at the high end of the market – now include such a feature as standard.
However, in every case so far the addition of a fingerprint scanner means adding a physical sensor onto the outside of the phone. This might change very soon, as one company has announced it has developed a scanner that fits inside the display of a smartphone.
The business responsible for this development is not one of the giants – such as Apple or Samsung – but the relatively small brand of Vivo. At the electronics show CES 2018, the firm unveiled its plans for an in-display fingerprint scanner, stating that it was ready to mass produce this piece of hardware.
In a press release, Vivo pointed out that 'bezel-less' or full-screen smartphones – handsets with very little on their front besides a screen – are becoming more common. Research has found that they accounted for 20 per cent of the market in 2017, and this could grow to 50 per cent by 2020.
As such, removing the need for a physical fingerprint scanner could be a major boon for manufacturers and consumers, improving the user experience by allowing for larger screens.
According to Vivo, the fingerprint scanner will only be activated when needed, at which point a graphical user interface (UI) will pop up on the screen showing where to put your finger. This can happen when the screen is off, during software unlocking or during mobile payment authentication, but the UI will be invisible while not in use.
Alex Feng, senior vice president of Vivo, said: “Today’s showcase of a ready-to-produce in-display fingerprint scanning smartphone featuring an optical fingerprint sensor is a big leap forward in bringing consumers this long-awaited, futuristic mobile experience. We are very excited to make it available to consumers soon.”
Because everyone's fingerprints are different, they are one of the most reliable methods that can be used to keep phones secure. While passwords can be cracked or stolen, it is extremely difficult to fake something biometric like a fingerprint. However, as mentioned above, usually this means adding a sensor to the outside of a phone.
While some companies have experimented with incorporating a sensor to the back of their handsets, allowing for a full screen on the other side, this is not as intuitive as having a sensor on the front. However, this cuts down on the available space for the display, meaning either smaller screens or a larger overall phone.
Vivo's development seems like it would solve this issue, allowing for full-screen phones with a fingerprint scanner on the front incorporated into the display. While there is no word on when the tech will be ready for release, the invention of an in-display sensor is certainly exciting.