Forget iPhone 12: The iPhone 13 could bring back Touch ID with a huge upgrade

iPhone with Touch ID
(Image credit: Redmond Pie)

The iPhone 13 might be the first flagship iPhone to use an in-display Touch ID sensor, if Apple can turn its newly granted patents into a real product in time for the launch.

Found by AppleInsider, the patent for "Through-Display Optical Transmission, Reception, or Sensing Through Micro-Optic Elements" shows how Apple would go about building a fingerprint scanner into one of its phones.

An illustration from the patent showing how lenses will focus light onto the fingerprint sensor.

An illustration from the patent showing how lenses will focus light onto the fingerprint sensor. (Image credit: AppleInsider)

In-display fingerprint scanners are a common sight on mid-range and flagship Android phones, but Apple has been using Face ID since it moved away from its home button with Touch ID design with the iPhone X in 2017. While this has since reappeared on the iPhone SE (2020), we've yet to see the system return on a main iPhone release.

There are some big engineering challenges to overcome when designing one of these systems. Chief among these is being able to transfer enough light through the display and other components to the sensor within the phone. Apple's patent details how it will overcome this with parts that are translucent to certain kinds of light, or apertures that direct the light around the opaque components and onto the sensor itself (shown in the below diagram).

A second patent, titled "Optical-fingerprint detection system", was also found by AppleInsider. This one isn't a complete component design but rather a solution to a common problem. Phones with OLED displays and in-display fingerprint scanners can sometimes struggle to read fingerprints in low temperatures, due to the way the pixels of the display respond to the cold. The patent therefore suggests various software solutions to the problem, showing that Apple's thinking through the sub-display Touch ID seriously.

There have also been past rumors of Apple working on a side-mounted fingerprint scanner. Similar to phones like the Samsung Galaxy S10e or the Huawei Nova 5T, the rumors suggest this would be added onto an iPhone SE Plus that would accompany the existing iPhone SE (2020) as Apple's larger budget phone.

From what we've seen so far, there are no rumors that the iPhone 12 will use Touch ID, instead inheriting Face ID from the iPhone 11 series. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who often has a good handle on what Apple's next moves are, has previously said that in-display Touch ID will join Face ID on a 2021 iPhone, which is why we think this patent is relevant to the iPhone 13.

Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.