In-Display Fingerprint: An impossible dream

In-Display Fingerprint: An impossible dream

By Valentina Tuta

There was a time when in-display fingerprints were one of the most innovative features in smartphones. You just had to put your finger on the touch screen like you would anyway, and a built-in sensor unlocks the phone. 

However, that was the dream, but in fact, they’re worse than the alternatives. Today we’re going to tell you a little bit more about the topic, what was the main objective and what we got instead of it. Read on to discover it!

More about Fingerprint Scanners

The first time the fingerprint scanners appeared in smartphones was in the 2010s. Apple launched the iPhone 5S with a fingerprint scanner in 2013, and Samsung followed suit with the Galaxy Note 4 a year later.

These first fingerprint readers were using capacitive technology. The sensor is covered in tiny electrodes, and the capacity between the electrodes is how your fingerprint is scanned. It changes depending on the distance between ridges on your finger.

What’s more, by the end of the 2010s, the vast majority of smartphones included this kind of technology. Although, it was obvious that the change was coming and Apple was the first brand in moving toward facial recognition with Face ID in 2017. For its part, at that moment, Android was implementing the first in-display fingerprint scanners.

Nowadays, Apple has almost completely replaced fingerprint scanners with Face ID and only the “retro” iPhone SE has Touch ID. On the other hand, there are still many Android devices with the original type of fingerprint scanner, but in-display scanners have become mainstream on “flagship” Android phones.

The Promise of In-Display Fingerprint Scanners

Initially, the first telephone to have this technology under the display was the Vivo X20 Plus, launched in early 2018. This device used to use an optical scanner, which shines light on your finger and takes a photo of it with a tiny camera.

At the time, it was a very futuristic update, just touching the screen to unlock your phone sounded like a great thing, right? Well, that’s not exactly how they worked. You actually had to put your finger in a very specific place. Furthermore, they were also much slower than the “old” style fingerprint scanner.

The Future We Got Instead

Fast forward to the present, we can still see High-end Android smartphones using this technology. Samsung, for instance, has been using in-display fingerprint scanners since 2018 while Google decided to adopt this technology starting with the Pixel 6 in 2021.

Certainly, the technology has had many improvements in the last five years and the first optical on-screen scanners, which did not have the best security, have gradually been replaced by ultrasonic on-screen scanners that simply use ultrasonic pulses to map your fingerprint.

Nevertheless, there is still a problem. The changes implemented in recent years are not as important as you can imagine. Besides, many experts say that, in fact, they’re not as good as the “old” style fingerprint scanners.

For example, the Galaxy S22, Samsung’s latest and greatest flagship smartphone series, features in-display fingerprint scanners, but the true is that you have to place your finger on the scanner three or more times before it registers. It’s gotten so frustrating that users prefer to enable Samsung’s facial recognition feature, which is still not as good as Apple’s Face ID but it still works.

Facial recognition: the true future

By the moment, the only reliable future we can wait for is the complete switch to Face ID. To be honest, the potential of under-display scanners seemed great, but the real-world implementation has left much to be desired.

After almost five years since the appearance of the first in-display scanner in a smartphone, Android manufacturers will most likely have to focus on competing with Apple’s Face ID.

You see, Face ID is just as fast and reliable as an old-style fingerprint scanner. While it’s not perfect and it’s less accurate while wearing a mask, for example, it’s very good. Moreover, the big benefit of this technology is that it’s actually more secure.

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