Beyond Touch ID: Where Mobile Fingerprint Scanners Are Heading

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The HTC One Max’s fingerprint reader is on the back.

Sarah Tew/CNET

LAS VEGAS — Apple isn’t alone in wanting to install a fingerprint sensor on its smartphone.

There will be several high-profile smartphones that include fingerprint scanners, according to Michael Maia, vice president of sales for the biometrics division of touchscreen and touchpad company Synaptics. Its product will ship in the first quarter and other phones are expected to come out in the second half, he said.

“It will be pretty mainstream,” he told CNET on the sidelines of the Consumer Electronics Show.

Fingerprint recognition technology hit the mainstream when Apple decided to make it its flagship feature on the iPhone 5S. Soon, millions of people were putting their finger on the home button to unlock their phones.

Now other companies are looking to add the same functionality to their own flagship smartphone.

the HTC One Max was the first to follow the iPhone 5S to include a fingerprint sensor, which was provided by Validity, the fingerprint identification company that Synaptics bought last yearr. Like previous fingerprint ID systems, the HTC One Max required a person to swipe down with their finger to unlock the phone.

It is similar to the slim fingerprint sensor found in laptops. Validity had virtually the entire market share and continues to support PCs running Synaptics.

On the other hand, Apple used a different technology from Authentec, which it acquired in July 2012. Rather than swiping, a person simply places their finger on the home screen, where it is scanned and recognized. Analysts noted that placing the scanner on the home button, a natural place where a finger rests, makes it easier for consumers to warm up.

The HTC One Max’s sensor is on the back, and Maia said many smartphones with a fingerprint sensor will likely include them somewhere on the back. He noted that Apple has the luxury of placing it on its physical home key, whereas many phones running Android or Windows Phone run out of space on the front of the phone. Either the phone has capacitance touch buttons or the frame around the phone is too small to allow for a physical key.

The holy grail, Maia said, is to embed the fingerprint scanner under the glass, eliminating the need for a physical scanner. But he noted that was probably still a long way off – certainly over a year from now.

Meanwhile, Synaptics is working on creating different versions for different handset makers looking to stand out. Unfortunately, Maia wouldn’t say which vendors were reviewing her technology.

Synaptics has developed a keyboard whose keys respond to gesture commands.

Roger Cheng/CBS

At least one big player, Samsung Electronics, had looked into the technology. Samsung originally planned to include a fingerprint scanner in the Galaxy Note 3, people familiar with the device told CNET, which reportedly beat out Apple’s iPhone 5S with this feature. However, Samsung scrapped the plan ahead of the device’s unveiling in September as the technology proved to be unreliable and complicated, the people said.

Samsung might include fingerprint scanning technology, but the final word is that the company may use an iris scanner instead.

Apple wasn’t the first to use a fingerprint reader either. Motorola, before being absorbed by Google, released the Atrix, the first phone with an integrated fingerprint reader on top of the device. He used Authentec’s technology, although it was clumsy and also used the swipe method.

Beyond biometrics, Synaptics showed off a few prototype laptop keyboards with capacitance sensors embedded underneath. Allowing you to perform gesture commands by swiping the keys or lighting up the keys just by touching them. The company said laptops with this feature could arrive over the holidays.

CNET’s Shara Tibken contributed to this story.

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