From Sci-Fi To New Normal: The Smartphone Fingerprint Sensor Presses On

The new key to digital security.

19/09/2016 3:15 PM IST | Updated 19/09/2016 4:27 PM IST

Recently, I wanted to use a friend's new phone for testing. From the moment I started setting it up, I felt uncomfortable using it. Why? Because, the phone didn't have a fingerprint sensor.

This might come across as snobbish, but fact is that fingerprint sensors are now the norm in smartphones priced over ₹10,000. Xiaomi even introduced it in their Redmi 3S Prime model that costs ₹8,990. Fingerprint sensors have become a 'must-have' feature in smartphones.

The first smartphone with a fingerprint sensor was Motorola's Moto Atrix 4G, introduced in 2011. It was awkwardly placed at the top and the user had to make multiple tries to get it to work.

Other smartphones followed, adding the feature, such as HTC One Max, but the most noticeable addition to the fingerprint sensor club was the iPhone 5S in 2013. Apple decided to call the feature, Touch ID.


To build TouchID, Apple had used a laser-cut Sapphire crystal, a stainless steel fingerprint detection ring, and the TouchID sensor. Apple faced some problems initially, with reports of TouchID being hackable, though hacking it required special skills and advanced tools.

The iPhone 6 sensor was an improvement, clubbed as it was with the launch of Apple Pay. Users could now make payments through their iPhones and the TouchID was one of the authentication methods.

Meanwhile, Samsung took its time and introduced the fingerprint sensor in Samsung Galaxy S5 and Note 3. But that turned out to be a huge disappointment because users had to hold down the button and then swipe down to unlock the smartphone.

Galaxy S5

Responding to criticism by fans and reviewers alike, the company implemented a much simpler, faster and secure fingerprint sensor in their next flagship, Samsung Galaxy S6. It also launched Samsung Pay on the back of the technology of Loop Pay, a company it had acquired earlier and, just as in the case of the iPhone, authenticating payments could be done by the fingerprint sensor.

Most Android phones use capacitive fingerprint scanners, that employ an array of capacitors which capture the fingerprint data from different parts of the finger and then create an image to match it with.


Other phonemakers such as HTC and LG also introduced fingerprint sensors and, over time, the sensors have become good. Some phones, such as LG V10 and OnePlus 2, have a great set of sensors.

A lively debate continues on the positioning of the fingerprint sensor. Apple and Samsung have always kept the fingerprint sensors in their smartphone in the front. While LG, Huawei and some other manufacturers prefer the fingerprint sensor at the back.


Meanwhile, companies such as Sony and NextBit have placed the fingerprint sensor on the side of the phone, next to the power/lock key. At first, this might seem like an absurd idea but placing the fingerprint sensor is pretty intuitive.

Over the past couple of years, besides the enhanced security aspects, the usability of the fingerprint sensors has increased a lot. Most smartphones can handle damp or greasy hands. And manufacturers such as Oppo and LeEco allow the fingerprint sensor to double as the camera button by default.

In an interesting recent development, Lenovo's sub-brand ZUK has tweaked the fingerprint sensor in its ZUK Z2 Plus smartphone, enabling the sensor to perform 5-6 different actions based on different gestures.


It can swap apps in the manner of a Macbook Trackpad when you swipe left and right. And, it can perform different actions based on single tap, double tap, long press and button press.

The latest technology in fingerprint sensors uses ultrasonic waves. LeEco and Qualcomm have demonstrated the first use in Le Max Pro smartphone.

With fingerprint sensors no longer being an exclusive feature restricted to high-end phones, trends indicate that upcoming smartphones will boast more secure and multi-functional fingerprint sensors.

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