The next big feature in your smartphone might be closer than you think. Synaptics today (Dec. 13) announced a new line of optical fingerprint sensors that will allow phone makers to place the sensor, complete with biometric technology, under the glass on the front of the phone.
That's a big deal for upcoming smartphones. The Synaptics sensors, called the Natural ID FS9100, will allow phone makers to design handsets with all-glass fronts without having to worry about button cut-outs for the fingerprint sensor.
"Synaptics is enabling the elimination of the home button which is a critical next step to full top-to-bottom, edge-to-edge smartphone and tablet displays," Lee Santiago, research director at IDC, said in a statement.
The Synaptics announcement comes at the same time as rumors are swirling about the iPhone and Galaxy slated for release in 2017. Chief among the rumored improvements to both Apple's iPhone 8 and Samsung's Galaxy S8 is a a new design that would allow for the top-to-bottom, edge-to-edge display Santiago references.
The iPhone 8, for instance, could have a screen that runs from one end of the handset to the other and would bake the Touch ID fingerprint sensor into the glass. A similar rumor about an edge-to-edge display is circulating about the Galaxy S8, too.
A move toward edge-to-edge screens with embedded fingerprint sensors could be a key one for smartphone design. Historically, smartphones have come with a screen flanked by a bezel all around. Beneath that screen is an area designed solely to house the home button and fingerprint sensor. And in many cases, that sensor is a physical button. With the Synaptics technology, the home button features, including fingerprint sensing, would hide behind a piece of glass but deliver the same functionality.
Synaptics says its technology would allow fingerprint scanning through glass with a thickness up to 1mm. The Natural ID FS9100 is also scratch-proof and waterproof, and comes with some security features to limit the chances of a hacker spoofing the fingerprint, according to Synaptics.
So when will this sensor come to a smartphone? At least for now, Synaptics isn't saying if it's partnering with any companies on the technology. But judging by the rumors swirling about the feature, it's possible that at least some major flagships will offer it in 2017.