Smartphone security features include the ability to lock a phone, which can be unlocked via a code, pattern or facial recognition. One of the oldest ways to secure a laptop, fingerprint recognition, has been largely ignored. Fingerprint recognition technology has been implemented and patented several times for smartphones. Despite this it has not seen any significant commercial adoption on smartphones.
Two years ago, the Motorola ATRIX 4G featured a biometric fingerprint smart sensor. The Motorola ATRIX 4G had a power lock button, which doubled as a fingerprint sensor. It was mounted on the top of the smartphone at the back. Swiping your finger on the fingerprint scanner would allow you to unlock the phone. If that failed, you could also unlock the phone using your PIN code. The idea seems like a good one. It is a lot more convenient than typing a four character code or swiping a complicated pattern. It can be done more discreetly than smiling into your phone’s camera.
A lot of innovation has been made with smartphone fingerprint scanners. Since 2011, BlackBerry’s fingerprint scanners were being issued to UK Police Officers. It allowed police officers to scan a person’s fingerprints and check them against the national fingerprint database. In March 2012, Sony filed a patent for a device which allowed for the fingerprint scanner to be placed behind the phone’s screen. This allows for cleaner aesthetics by allowing the fingerprint scanner to be hidden. Last February, CrucialTec unveiled its own take on the fingerprint scanner. CrucialTec invented a tiny fingerprint scanner that could be programed to recognize up to ten different fingerprints, with different functions being assigned to each one: Swipe forefinger to unlock. Swipe index finger to activate camera.
This is a lot of “innovation” for something which has not yet seen wide adoption. I suspect one reason is lack of space. With the race to slimmer phones with longer battery life on high gear, there probably was not enough room for the fingerprint scanner.
But many are tipping 2013 to be the year of the fingerprint scanner on smartphones. The Konka V981, made by a Chinese appliance maker, reportedly has a fingerprint sensor integrated into its Super AMOLED display. The Pantech Vega LTE-A will have a fingerprint scanner at the back. The HTC One Max will reportedly also come with a fingerprint scanner at the back. The fingerprint scanner is not going to see wholesale consumer adoption of these Konka and Pantech handsets, or HTC’s phablet. Adoption by these companies will not be enough to make it “must-have” technology.
It would take adoption by Apple or by Samsung to make fingerprint scanners mainstream. These two companies are reportedly racing to get this technology on their devices. Once one of these smartphone giants adopts the technology, everyone will be forced to follow suit. It is not really must-have technology. If not, we would all be sporting Motorola handsets by now. As useful as biometric technology is, it is going to require a lot of marketing to make us decide it is something we cannot live without.
Photo credits: Motorola, Sony and AFP