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A bigger in-display fingerprint sensor is coming to your smartphone

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

WAILEA, Hawaii — It's not going to get the attention of introducing a couple of new smartphone processors, but Qualcomm had to more to reveal today (Dec. 2), as it also announced a new version of its ultrasonic fingerprint sensor for smartphones.

The new 3D Sonic Max features a larger recognition area — it's 17 times the size of Qualcomm's previous ultrasonic sensor. That should boost the security of ultrasonic sensors that use your fingerprint to unlock a phone or verify payments.

Increasing the size of the fingerprint sensor allows it to capture 30 times the information as the current sensors, according to Gordon Thomas, a senior director of product management at Qualcomm. A smaller scanner may only recognize one or two minutiae — those ridge endings and bifurcations that make a fingerprint distinct. Qualcomm's 3D Sonic Max sensor can read a full fingerprint.

Qualcomm's 3D Sonic Max sensor

Qualcomm's 3D Sonic Max sensor (Image credit: Qualcomm)

What's more, the area on the 3D Sonic Max is big enough for two-fingerprint scanning, a feature that can be appealing for tasks like mobile banking where you'd want hard-to-beat security.

The 3D Sonic Max sensor boasts other improvements as well. Qualcomm upgraded the circuitry and hardware to improve latency so that the sensor works faster. A big scanner will also be easier to find on a smartphone's display.

Look for the 3D Sonic Max sensor to find its way into phones starting in 2020.

The fact that Qualcomm is continuing to develop an in-display fingerprint sensor indicates that phone makers continue to see it as a differentiating feature for their phones. On the one-hand, there's the security aspect as fingerprint sensors can not only be used to unlock phones but to confirm mobile payments as well.

Then there's the aspect of screen space — by placing the sensor underneath the display, that removes the need to make room for a physical button. As a result, phone makers can squeeze in more screen space without having to stick a fingerprint sensor on the back of their phones, which can be an awkward solution for end users.