iPhone 12 leak reveals killer feature that's a first for Apple

iPhone 12 Pro render
(Image credit: svetapple)

At least one model of the iPhone 12 may feature an under-display fingerprint scanner using ultrasonic technology, which would complement Face ID for unlocking the device.

A first for Apple, this would give Apple a new weapon against the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Note 20 while also making your life easier.

We’ve seen rumors both for and against Touch ID under the screen in the lead up to the iPhone 12 launch this fall, but this report from Economic Daily News says that Qualcomm, touch panel maker GIS and OLED display maker BOE are collaborating on the tech. 

The addition of a under-display fingerprint sensor would certainly be welcome, as Face ID has trouble recognizing faces when you're wearing a mask. And it’s very likely that people will be wearing masks in public well into the fall if not beyond.

The Economic Daily News report (first spotted by MacRumors) says that new features like under-screen fingerprint recognition “will prompt a new wave of buying momentum.” It also says that Qualcomm and GIS are the main suppliers for the Samsung Galaxy S20 series, and that if “Apple wants to catch up” there is a high probability of it working with those two companies.

The Galaxy Note 20 will likely adopt a similar ultrasonic reader to the Galaxy Note 10 last year and the Galaxy S20 from this year. We're not aware of any major advancements in the technology, but there could be some improvements when the Note 20 launches in July or August.

Apple is already working with Qualcomm on the 5G modem for iPhone 12, so it’s not unreasonable to believe that the two companies are partnering on another feature for its flagship phone.

Just last week Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman said not to expect a under-screen fingerprint technology to come to the iPhone 12 this year. But a separate rumor from a trusted leaker on Twitter said that Apple would bring an under-screen fingerprint reader to the iPad Air later this year. So there are conflicting views on when Apple will adopt this tech and for which devices.

The iPad Pro 2020 is the first device in Apple's lineup to feature a LiDAR sensor, which dramatically improves performance in iPhone augmented reality applications. And that same sensor is expected to find it way to the iPhone 12 — or at least the iPhone 12 Pro models.

In general, we’ve found under-screen fingerprint sensors to be finicky, as we sometimes experience false negatives. This can happen when you place your finger on the sensor to quickly or if you don’t hit it just right. This is not an issue with Face ID.

However, we could see why Apple might want to bring Touch ID back to the iPhone, even if it doesn’t happen in time for the iPhone 12. 

Overall, the iPhone 12 rumors point to four models in Apple's lineup, including a 5.4-inch and 6.1-inch iPhone 12 and a 6.1-inch and 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro. All four are expected to feature 5G technology and Apple's new blazing A14 Bionic chip, but only the iPhone 12 Pro devices will likely continue to offer telephoto lenses and get the new LiDAR sensor.

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Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.